OWL Magazine Korea

Kiyomizu-dera: Kyoto’s Most Famous Temple (2023)

In Kyoto, where various temples abound, one that stands out as widely recognized and frequently visited by tourists is the temple known as “Kiyomizu-dera.” Written in Chinese characters as “清水寺,” it is pronounced as “Cheongsusa” in Korean, and “Kiyomizu-dera” in Japanese.

“Temple of Clear Water – Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺)”

Kiyomizu-dera, or the Temple of Clear Water, holds its name from the clear Otowa waterfall that flows through the temple grounds. Exploring the vicinity of Kiyomizu-dera, you’ll encounter various attractions such as Ninen-zaka, Sannen-zaka, Chawan-zaka, and Hōkanji, making it a destination that not only includes the temple itself but also the surrounding streets, requiring a considerable amount of time to explore fully.

“Established in the Heian Period”

Kiyomizu-dera was founded during the Heian period and is renowned for its association with Sakanoue no Tamuramaro, the first Shogun of the Heian era. Legend has it that Tamuramaro, originally a military general, encountered a Buddhist monk named Enchin while hunting deer for his wife. Enchin, practicing at the nearby Koei, was dedicated to the Bodhisattva of Compassion.

Inspired by this encounter, Tamuramaro repented his violent ways, devoted himself to the Bodhisattva, and contributed his residence to create a significant temple, Kiyomizu-dera, at the heart of Kannon worship.

“Repeated Destruction and Restoration Through Fires”

Kiyomizu-dera has faced multiple fires and destruction throughout its history. Most of the structures, including the main hall, were reconstructed in 1633 with donations from Tokugawa Iemitsu, the third shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate. The name “Kiyomizu-dera,” meaning “Temple of Clear Water,” is derived from the Otowa waterfall that flows through the temple grounds.

Despite the challenges, the temple has been well-preserved, earning it a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1994.

“Stage of Kiyomizu-dera – Butai”

The main attraction at Kiyomizu-dera is the “Butai” or stage. This building stands in front of the national treasure main hall, perched on a steep 12-meter cliff. The stage was extended to accommodate numerous pilgrims and serves as a venue for tea ceremonies, performances, and lantern events. Positioned about 10 meters out from the cliff, standing here provides a panoramic view of Kyoto.

During the Edo period, it was believed that jumping off the stage after praying to Kannon would fulfill one’s wishes. Sadly, the thick planting of trees below meant that approximately 85% of those who leaped lost their lives. Jumping off the stage was prohibited in 1872.

“Otowa Waterfall”

Below the main hall, you’ll find a small waterfall known as the Otowa waterfall, where Otowa means “clear water flowing with a beautiful sound.” Three streams of this renowned waterfall are said to provide benefits when consumed. Looking at the falls from left to right is believed to bring luck in health, studies (beauty), and love (success). However, consuming water from all three streams is said to nullify the effects, so it’s advisable to drink from a maximum of two.

During my visit, a group of students on a school trip was performing a ritual involving the waterfall. They were pouring water into cups, creating a rhythmic sound, and since time was limited, we had to admire the falls from a distance before moving on to our next destination.

“Experience the Beauty of Four Seasons”

Kiyomizu-dera boasts breathtaking views throughout the four seasons, making it a must-visit destination. Many say that to fully appreciate the temple, one should visit during each season. The most famous view is from the main hall, offering a panoramic view of Kyoto city.

“Experiencing the Charm of Kiyomizu-dera in Late Summer Rain”

During my previous visit in 2018, I arrived too late to explore the interior, which left me disappointed. However, this time, arriving on schedule allowed me to enter and appreciate the interior views. Although the exterior views were fantastic, witnessing the late summer rain from inside the temple added a special charm to the experience. Fortunately, the rain didn’t last long, allowing me to spend a memorable time enjoying the unique scenery.

I visited Kyoto at the end of September, a period when Japanese schools often embark on field trips. Consequently, many student groups in school uniforms were present throughout Kyoto, including at Kiyomizu-dera. Observing these students bustling about added an interesting touch to the overall experience.

Having now enjoyed the late summer scenery at Kiyomizu-dera, I look forward to returning in the future to witness the beauty of spring, autumn, and winter. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kiyomizu-dera truly lives up to its reputation as a place of stunning landscapes.

“Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto, Japan”

  • Address: 294 Kiyomizu 1-chōme, Higashiyama-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu 605-0862, Japan
  • Phone: +81 75-551-1234
  • Website: Kiyomizu-dera Official Website