Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Wishes Made at Kyoto's Kiyomizu Temple

The veranda and 3-story pagoda of Kyoto's legendary Kiyomizu Temple
One of the most popular places to visit in Kyoto is Kiyomizu Temple (Kiyomizu-dera), especially during cherry blossom season. Even though I realized this when planning the trip, I didn't fully appreciate the magnitude of the crowd. Our first clue was the extremely long queue at Kyoto Station to board a bus to the temple. After calculating that we wouldn't get on the first two buses to come by, we opted for a taxi. The driver ran into traffic along the way, and we ended up taking a winding detour through back alley streets to get there. The kids took this as an opportunity to zonk out and nap, and I thought this was a good way to see a part of the city that's off the tourist track. Almost an hour went by, and we were just beginning to very slowly creep up the road leading to the temple entrance. Finally, the cab driver told us it would be faster to  walk, so we hopped out and jumped into the crowd, tightly gripping our kids' hands. We strolled through the busy, narrow market street of the Higashiyama District taking time to ply the young ones with a few snacks to raise their flagging spirits since I really wanted to see this one last place before calling it quits for the day. In the end, it turned out to be worthy of all the hoopla and praise heaped on this scenic site.

Enter by the Deva Gate with the 3-Story Pagoda behind it

Many Japanese tourists enjoyed this national treasure and UNESCO Cultural World Heritage site along with us. Some were bundled up against the chill weather while others were dressed in traditional kimonos.

Dressed for a day of picture taking and sightseeing

One of the iconic buildings of the temple grounds is the Main Hall and the veranda of its Kiyomizu stage. Its 12 meter high (36 feet) support pillars were constructed without using a single nail, and
the floor was assembled from more than 410 cypress boards. The view of Kyoto from up here is spectacular. This place inspired the Japanese idiom "jumping from the veranda of Kiyomizu Temple" to mean that someone is about to take a bold or daring adventure. Supposedly, you would be granted your wish if you survived the jump. In the Edo era, 234 jumps were recorded, and 85.4% survived. The others were not so lucky. I decided not to test it out.

Looking up at the veranda. No way would I jump from there!

Another tradition at Kiyomizu temple is walking between the Love Stones at Jishu Shrine. This Shinto shrine behind the Main Hall is the dwelling place of Okuninushi, the god of love and matchmaking. According to the sign, "If you walk safely from this stone to the other with your eyes closed, for once, your wish will be granted soon. If you can't, it will be long before your love is realized." The greatest challenge of crossing the 6 meters (18 feet) between the two stones was avoiding the numerous people wandering across your path and being deflected off course. I'm sure it's easier to stay straight on less busy days. My daughter failed in her attempt, but since she was only 6 years old, I was hoping it would be a long, long, very long time before her love is realized, anyways.

Walking between the Love-fortune-telling Stones

Kiyomizu-dera means "Temple of the Clear Water" and is named after Otowa Falls. Water from a mountain spring has been falling her since before it was originally built back in 778. Many visitors drink the sacred spring water from a ladle since it's supposed to have wish granting powers. In retrospect, I really should have done it and asked for quick transport back to our hotel after a long day.

I think drinking spring water from Otowa Falls seems like a better option for gaining luck than jumping off the veranda.

The cherry blossoms were indeed beautiful, and I can see why so many people flock to this site in the springtime. When we were there, the temple was going to have one of its rare night openings, but we were too tuckered out to last much past sunset.

Cherry Blossoms blooming over the pond by the 3-Story Pagoda

We eventually left and began walking back down the hill through the shopping street. It's been catering to temple tourists for centuries and have used that time well to hone their skills at offering tempting wares.  I really could have done some damage to my wallet here, but all of us just wanted to get home. (Or perhaps my hubby drank from the Otowa Falls when I wasn't looking and wished for me to have an uncharacteristic lack of interest in shopping.) Eventually, we made it to the main street where we caught a bus back to Kyoto Station. Kiyomuzi Temple is an Ancient Kyoto icon and a must-see when visiting this town.

Oddly, I wasn't at all inclined to shop despite the gorgeous wares displayed in the shops.
Perhaps strange forces were at work.

Click here to view the Visitor's Guide with Admission fees, Operating Hours, and an Access Guide for Kiyomizu Temple.

Related Posts:
Kyoto Station is Enchanted
The 10,000 Torii Gates of Kyoto's Fushimi-Inari Shrine

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox and Friday Daydreamin' at R We There Yet Mom? Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.


  1. I love the way you make the best of every detour (in this case the taxi) that your travels throw at you! And this is a most interesting outing - thanks for letting us all come along. The blossoms are beautiful.

  2. I love how you got there - your family's a real trooper.
    Love the temple, one of these days, I have to get to Japan and the Cherry Blossoms.

  3. I really enjoy reading about places I haven't heard about before, like this one. Would love to go to Japan during the cherry blossoming season and have a look at some of the weird and wonderful temples.

  4. I bet that spring water tasted good and agree it is a much better option! Would love to visit Asia during Cherry Blossom season.

  5. I would totally jump off the veranda of Kiyomizu Temple! All I know and want in life are daring adventures :D lovely photos by the way

    - Maria Alexandra

  6. These are beautiful pictures, Michele! I am fascinated by Japanese temples and I would love to visit Kyoto one of these days furing cherry blossom season. These are great traditions except for that jumping off thing. i would totally have drank that water.

  7. The Japanese temples have such interesting histories and rich traditions. I like the Love Stones at Jishu Shrine, but it could certainly lead to disappointment.

  8. If I ever make it to Japan I plan to time it to get a least some of the cherry blossoms. I am overwhelmed by the sheer number of temples in Japan but this one sounds particularly interesting and your kids seemed to have been OK with the whole experience - a bonus in my books.

  9. Japanese culture fascinates me and I can't wait to visit next year. The sock / flip flop combo looks so uncomfortable! Beautiful images.

  10. Glad you didn't jump :) I enjoyed this temple, but I think I ended up with heat stroke the day I visited. It was close to 40 degrees cel!

  11. Sounds like a big day out for the little ones but really worth while. I'd love to visit Kyoto one day, wonder if it's ever less busy in cherry blossom time. Good to meet you on TPThursday.


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