Kiyomizu-dera on Mount Otowa is one of the most famous temples in Japan, a place that appears in every sequence of Japanese travel photos. The landscape is all cherry trees and forest; it is among Kyoto‘s loveliest spots. The current structure dates to 1633 and is one of 33 temples on a pilgrimage circuit in the Kansai region dedicated to Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. The circuit runs from the south of Wakayama north to the Sea of Japan. You’ll see pilgrims carrying nokyo-cho—books stamped to record the visit—and monks busily inscribing in calligraphy. The temple, set against a steep hill and constructed on huge pilings, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Kyoto's Beautiful Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera Temple in the eastern part of Kyoto is one of the most popular temples in Japan. During the autumn when the maple leaves are changing color and the evening light festivals take place, it is spectacular. The temple is Buddhist and was founded in 778 on the side of the Otowa Mountain. The Otowa Waterfall contributes to the temple’s name, as Kiyomizu-dera literally means “Pure Water Temple.” At the base of the mountain where the waterfall is located, the water descends into three streams. There is a shrine where visitors can drink from each stream. The waters are said to have a different benefit: longevity, success at school, and a fortunate love life. Drinking from all three is considered greedy, so it is up to the visitor to select carefully! The temple is part of a large park with plenty of space to enjoy the various temples, shrines, and halls. There is a teahouse and cafe for refreshment as well.

Kyoto's Kiyomizudera Temple

Most of the days during our March 2010 Japan whirlwind were overcast, but the sun came out while we were visiting the colorful Kiyomizu Temple that overlooks the city. Breathtaking.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto

There is a reason the global environmental pact is called the Kyoto Agreement (or Protocol). Once you enter this city and start exploring its temples you will see shades of green that are nearly impossible to replicate, and therefore need saving. There are so many temples to see in Kyoto that you could spend weeks visiting them all, and while the overwhelming color that you see for miles is green, it is precisely for that reason that other colors just pop.

Climbing to Kiyomizu-dera

Climbing to Kiyomizu-dera was not without effort, but the sight of the temple in autumn was worth it. We slowly scooted up Shijo Street in Gion along with droves of tourists, mostly Japanese, and headed for the temple. We mistakenly figured the first temple we saw must be the right one and wandered around for about twenty minutes before realizing we were in the wrong spot. We rushed down Higashiyama Nijo leading to the real Kiyomizu-dera, which sits on a cliff above the city and offers views of Kyoto and its encompassing moutains, Higashiyama, Kitayama and Nishiyama. It was almost sunset and we were desperate to get to the top before the sun disappeared behind the mountains. The path to Kiyomizu-dera was a steep, narrow street lined with small souvenir and food shops. It was the most crowded street we encountered in Kyoto and we moved shoulder to shoulder directed by police managing the hordes that take over Kyoto in late autumn. We latched on to a Japanese man who was even more determined than us to reach the top and made it just in time for the golden hour.

It's sturdier than it looks

The large porch that suspends Kiyomizu-dera visitors looks pretty old. However, this impressive structure is just part of a beautiful temple that has been around since 780 AD. The architecture is quite young being born in 1633. Take a look if you’re in the area and have a drink of sacred water to bring good health.

When to Visit the Kiyomizu-dera Temple

The Kiyomizu-dera temple, dating from 778 AD, is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage site. It is located up a hill through the exciting historic district, Higashiyama, which is filled with shops and restaurants. The most enchanting time of day to visit the temple is during the evening illuminations. The temple is brilliantly lit during the annual Hanatoro event held in mid-March, as well as during the autumn leaf season in November.

The View From Kiyomizu-dera

The view of the Kyoto and its surrounding mountains from Kiyomizu-dera is equally as impressive as the temple itself. I recommend going in November, during the height of the fall leaves, or April, for the sakura (cherry blossoms). Kiyomizu-dera is located southwest of Gion, near the intersection of Higashi Oji Dori and Gojo Dori. To get to the temple hike up a narrow and steep, shop-lined street. If it feels super crowded you’re probably in the right place. Kiyomizu is one of Kyoto’s most popular attractions.

Feeling History at Kiyomizu-dera Temples in Kyoto

At the Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist Temple Complex in Kyoto, Japan, I felt the weight of hundreds of years of history before me. I imagined the people who have walked there among the many buildings, admiring the backdrop of cherry blossoms and Japanese maples on the surrounding hills. Kiyomizu-dera, which means “pure water temple,” is a UNESCO World Heritage site founded in 798. After many earthquakes and fires, it now consists of over 30 halls, pagodas, gates, and other structures dating from 1633. Scattered among the temple complex are large and small Buddhas, stalls to buy lucky charms, hand-washing stations with dragon statues, and natural springs. One of my favorite parts of exploring was seeing the young women dressed in kimonos for their visit.

Temple Touring in Japan's Old Imperial Capital

Despite the warning, I was disappointed. At first sight, Kyoto seemed like any other city: big, bustling and busy. Where were the thousands of temples I had been told about? There actually are thousands of them. As Japan’s imperial capital for over a thousand years, Kyoto is king when it comes to historical sightseeing, home to 1600 Buddhist temples and several hundred Shinto Shrines. We saw them slowly, first tiny ones tucked away in between tall tower blocks near our city centre hotel; then big and beautiful in the eastern reaches of the city. As we wandered through Gion – still a working geisha district – and up through the wooden-walled narrow streets of historic Higashiyama, we came across temples at what seemed like every ten steps. We stumbled upon the Yasaka Pagoda, and by taking a chance turning up some old steep streets, ended up exactly where we wanted to be: the famous Kiyomizu-dera temple. It was big, bright and beautiful, and as we wound our way around to the famous wooden terrace, we were greeted with a wide open view of the city. After the crowds – and countless kimonos – at Kiyomizu-dera, we took a different route down through Higashiyama, strolling by leafy gardens and undisturbed, incense-infused temples. By evening’s approach, we had found our way out of the maze of alleyways and Buddhas, and back into the bustling real world.

Strolling around the scenic Kiyomizu Temple

Founded in 798, this temple’s main hall was constructed over a cliff. Walking up the narrow road you will notice many little shops and food stores. The view from the hall is breathtaking. There was a time during the Edo period that if you jumped off the the stage and survived the 13m jump, your wish would be granted. This is now unfortunately prohibited.


Kiyomizuzaka is the Kyoto street that leads up to Kiyomizudera. Lined with ceramics shops specializing in bowls and everything else you need for a tea ceremony, the street also has stores selling Buddhist paraphernalia and regular souvenirs as well as a few food stops. An excellent place for arts and crafts in all price ranges.

Looking for Love & Love at Kyoto's Kiyomizu-Dera Temple

Kiyomizu-Dera is the most “fun” of the temples I’ve visited. I was entertained just walking to the temple, up a store-lined pedestrian street teeming with animated students and excited tourists, most of us indulging in green tea soft serve cones souvenir shopping. Inside, interaction is encouraged. Tour groups surround a tall metal pole, cheering-on/chiding their young, male travelers as they attempt to lift it from its base. Many try; none succeed. A walk along the wooded path rewards you with a view of the shrine’s famous wooden stage and the sight of Kyoto sprawling beneath you. If you seek love you have two options: walk the 15 feet from one stone to another with your eyes closed at the Jishu Shrine or drink from the love life stream of water cascading from the Otowa Waterfall. You can partake of good fortune (love, longevity or success in school) from two of the three streams but drinking from all three -- considered greedy -- will bring you bad luck.

Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto

This is one of my favorite places in Japan, and in the world. It is one of the most beautiful temples. It’s very nice to come here when it’s not crowded. I often try to come here during the rain, as odd as that sounds (that’s when it is least crowded!).


The best temple in Japan in my opinon...

Beautiful Kiyomizu Tera


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