Kiyomizu-dera Temple, a must-see in Kyoto

Kiyomizu-dera Temple, which is formally known as Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera, is a Buddhist temple located in the eastern part of the city Kyoto, which is on the island of Honshu in Japan. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Kiyomizu means “clear or pure water” and refers to the waterfall flowing down nearby hills.

The temple was founded in 778 during the early Heian Period by a shogun and general named Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (758-811). The current buildings, however, were constructed by the order of Tokugawa Iemitsu in 1633. No nails were used in any of the buildings.

What to see at Kiyomizu-dera Temple?

The temple offers tours provided by English-speaking monks. They will explain their worship of Kannon, the goddess of mercy. The tour starts with a visit to the Otowa Waterfall, whose waters are believed to bring good fortune. The travelers will then visit the temple itself – including the inner sanctuary in the Main Hall that houses a statue of Kannon. They will also visit the West Gate, a stone with imprints of the Buddha’s footprints, and some of the gardens.

The temple is famous for the wooden terrace that extends from the Main Hall and stands 13 meters (43 feet) above the hillside. Visitors standing on the terrace can enjoy a spectacular view of the maple and cherry trees, that are particularly colorful in the spring and the fall. They can also see Kyoto beyond the trees. 

The Jishu Shrine is located behind the Main Hall, and it is devoted to the god of matchmaking and love. There are two stones in front of the shrine about 18 meters (59 feet) apart. Being able to find your way from one stone to the other with your eyes closed indicates you will have good luck in finding your true love. 

Other buildings on the temple grounds include the Koyasu Pagoda, which is said to bless women with easy childbirth; the Okunoin Hall, which has a stage; and the Zuigudo Hall, which honors the mother of the Buddha. It has a black basement that represents a mother’s womb. 

In the fall and the spring, the temple hosts evening Illuminations or light shows. The blue light represents the mercy and compassion of the goddess Kannon.

Kiyomizu-dera opening hours and fees

The temple is open every day and it always opens at 6 am. 

It closes at 6:30 pm on weekends and holidays from mid-April to the end of July, and it closes at 6:30 every day during August and September. On other days, the temple closes at 6 pm.

Admission costs 400 yen, which is somewhat less than $4 USD.

Spring Illuminations run from late March to mid-April. They start at 6 pm and end at 9 pm.

Fall Illuminations run from mid-November to early December. They start at 5:30 pm and end at 9 pm.

Admission costs 400 yen. 

The Main Hall has been undergoing renovations in preparation for the upcoming Summer Olympics at Tokyo which is scheduled to take place from July 24 through August 9. These renovations should be completed in March 2020, so the Main Hall will be accessible again. 

How to get to Kiyomizu-dera?

There are a couple of ways to reach the temple from Kyoto.

The first way is to go to the Kyoto Station and take a bus numbered either 206 or 100. A 15-minute ride will take you to either the Kiyomizu-michi bus stop or the Gojo-zaka bus stop. The traveler can then walk uphill to the temple from either bus stop. It usually takes around ten minutes to walk to the temple.

Another way to the temple is to go to the Kiyomizu-michi Station and walk along the Keihan Railway Line, which will take around 20 minutes. 

Visitors coming from Tokyo can reach Kyoto by plane or bus. The bus trip would take over two hours while flights from the Haneda Airport or the Narita Airport would take no more than 90 minutes.

Visitors from Osaka can go to the Kansai International Airport and then take a train or airport limousine bus. Either way, the trip would take roughly 90 minutes.

Alternatively, visitors from Osaka can go to the Osaka Itami Airport and take an airport limousine bus. The trip would take about an hour.