Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) is one of the four most popular places to visit in Kyoto, together with the rock garden of Ryoan-ji (龍安寺) and the Gold and Silver pavilions. Kiyomizu-dera is, like the other three, a Unesco World Heritage. Founded in 778, the temple was destroyed many times, like so many other temples in Kyoto. The current buildings were built in the early Edo period, around 1631. The temple name ("Clear water temple") comes from the spring that is found on the temple grounds and has been flowing since the temple's creation.
The first impression of Kiyomizu-dera is often felt way before one can see it, along the street full of merchants that climbs to the temple. If you want to feel the rage that Jesus felt when he drove the merchants off the temple of Jerusalem, well here's your chance. Not all gift shops and eateries are bad though. Reaching the top of the street one arrives in front of the first gate ("Deva gate"). After the gate is the bell tower, followed by a first hall, the Zuigu-do hall. Nearby is the three-storied pagoda and the west gate with its beautiful view on Kyoto. Passing two more large halls one arrives at the (toll) gate of the temple (yes, the previous part was free!). From there one quickly reaches "the" stage and "the" main hall of the temple. The infamous stage is built as a continuation of the main hall, 12m above ground, on a wooden structure without nails. The stage gives a commanding view on the Kiyomizu valley with, on the other side and a bit in the distance, an small and old pagoda lost in the pines. Although the view from here is great, viewing the structure is difficult (and dangerous). Luckily there's a better observation point a bit further.
After the main building, a torii and a stone stairs mark the entrance of a small shrine (Jishu shrine, 地主神社). The shrine is dedicated to lovers and has many tricks to attract dating couples. The best of which is a set of two stones set 10 meters apart. If one can walk blind from one to the other his/her love will be realized. This is easy to do unless... you happen to be trying during the peak season when the place is packed with tourists.
Leaving Jishu shrine behind the path passes on to of a large flight of stairs that go to the bottom of the valley. Don't go there (yet). After the stairs there's two halls and then the Okuno-in hall, the other terrace that you have seen from the main stage. From here the view of the main hall is picture-perfect... at the right season. The path continues on the other side of the valley, giving a few other interesting places to view the temple buildings. Once you join the a larger road look for the small path going up ahead. It leads to a smaller older pagoda (currently under repairs). Along this small path and stairs are a few very interesting spots to photograph the main hall. The larger road crossed just before will then lead you to the "clear water spring" (for which you have to pay extra!) The path then passes at the bottom of the main stage which allows you to see how it was built. A small pond overlooked by the pagoda finishes the visit.
Even with its fame, the temple has a couple of secret places that few know about. From the plaza at the top of the street, take the road that passes the front gate by the left. After 50 meters you will notice many small stone statues called jizo (地蔵). They usually wear a red cloth, a tradition throughout Japan, but sometimes the monks of Kiyomizudera "go to 11" and use all kind of colours. After the "thousand Jizo" turn left before the pond and you will reach Joju-in. It is definitely worth a visit if the place is open (high season only). Unfortunately no photography is allowed there.
For a different experience you can also visit Kiyomizu-dera at night. To know if there is an evening opening just look at the temple at night: if you see a big blue beam then you can go! (the beam is visible in most of downtown Kyoto) Be warned that the place can be so packed that the queue before the opening will fill the merchant street on its whole length.
Recommended for: Access:
Nearby: Hōkan-ji 法観寺 (620m), Seikan-ji 清閑寺 (640m), Ryōzen Kannon 霊山観音 (640m), Kongō-ji 金剛寺 (670m), Higashiyama Overlook 東山山頂公園 (670m), Nene No Michi ねねの道 (690m), Kōdai-ji 高台寺 (770m), Evening tea ceremony 冬の夜の茶会 (780m), Entoku-in 圓徳院 (830m), Shōgunzuka 将軍塚 (890m),...
External links: Website, ウィキペディア, Wikipedia, Wikipédia, Kyoto Navi, Trip Advisor, Kyoto Design, 京都風光, Inside Kyoto, Marutake, そうだ京都, Satellite view, Map
Keywords: Japan, 日本, Japon, Kyoto, 京都, 東山, Higashiyama, Kiyomizudera, 清水寺, 音羽山清水寺, temple, 寺院, 仏閣, UNESCO world heritage