Kiyomizu-dera Travel Guide

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Kiyomizu-dera, officially Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera is an independent Buddhist temple in eastern Kyoto. The temple is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) UNESCO World Heritage site. (It should not be confused with Kiyomizu-dera in Yasugi, Shimane, which is part of the 33-temple route of the Chugoku 33 Kannon Pilgrimage through western Japan.)

Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, Japan
Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, Japan

Kiyomizu-dera was founded in the early Heian period. The temple was founded in 798, and its present buildings were constructed in 1633, ordered by the Tokugawa Iemitsu. There is not a single nail used in the entire structure. It takes its name from the waterfall within the complex, which runs off the nearby hills (got its name from the waterfall). Kiyomizu means clear water, or pure water.

Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, Japan
Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, Japan

The main hall has a large veranda, supported by tall pillars, that juts out over the hillside and offers impressive views of the city. Large verandas and main halls were constructed at many popular sites during the Edo period to accommodate large numbers of pilgrims.

Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, Japan
Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, Japan

The popular expression "to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu" is the Japanese equivalent of the English expression "to take the plunge". This refers to an Edo period tradition that held that, if one were to survive a 13m jump from the stage, one's wish would be granted. Two hundred thirty-four jumps were recorded in the Edo period and, of those, 85.4% survived. The practice is now prohibited.

Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, Japan
Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, Japan

The temple complex includes several other shrines, among them the Jishu Shrine, dedicated to Okuninushi, a god of love and "good matches". Jishu Shrine possesses a pair of "love stones" placed 6 meters/20 feet apart, which lonely visitors can try to walk between with their eyes closed. Success in reaching the other stone with their eyes closed implies that the pilgrim will find love, or true love. One can be assisted in the crossing, but this is taken to mean that a go-between will be needed. The person's romantic interest can assist them as well.

Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, Japan
Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto, Japan

The complex also offers various talismans, incense, and omikuji (paper fortunes). The site is particularly popular during festivals (especially at New Year's and during obon in the summer) when additional booths fill the grounds selling traditional holiday foodstuffs and souvenirs to throngs of visitors.

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