Kiyomizudera (清水寺 "Clear Water Temple") is a temple of the Hossō sect of Buddhism. It is located on a high hill in the Higashiyama Ward of Kyoto. Officially called Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera (音羽山清水寺), it was founded around 788 by the monk Enchin with the support of Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (758-811), a general who fought several campaigns to bring eastern Japan under the control of the central government. The temple is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and as such part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji, and Otsu Cities).

kiyomizudera.jpg


History


Legend has it that Enchin, formerly a priest at a temple in Nara and a wandering ascetic, had a vision of a fountain of pure water where he could build a temple. Wandering around Otawa-no-taki ("Sound-of-Feathers Waterfall"), he met Gyō-ei Kōji, a hermit, and a devotee of the Bodhisattva Kannon. Gyō-ei Kōji announced that he had been waiting for Enchin to arrive and that with the priest's arrival he could move on to a more secluded hermitage. Enchin later found Gyō-ei's sandals on the top of the mountain, leading him to believe that the hermit was a manifestation of Kannon himself. Enchin created an image of the Eleven-faced Kannon (十一面観音 Jūichimen Kannon), carved from a log of sacred wood presented to him by Gyō-ei and built a small temple to house the image, marking the beginning of the Kiyomizudera, the Temple of Clear Water.

One day, one of Emperor Kammu's generals, Sakanoue no Tamuramaro happened to pass the waterfall hunting for deer. When he encountered Enchin, who performed his ablutions nearby, carrying a dead deer, the priest admonished him. He lectured the general on the evils of taking life, for the killing of Buddha's creatures was forbidden. According to the legend, Tamuramaro repented and became his disciple. He had his house dismantled and reassembled at the temple precinct to provide a proper structure for the Kannon image.

When the Emperor moved his capital to Kyōto in 794, he decided to erect a new palace. He gave his old residence, the Throne Hall (紫宸殿 Shishinden), to Tamuramaro who in turn presented the large building to Enchin. It became the new main hall of the Kiyomizudera.

When private ownership of temples was prohibited in 810, the temple, still under control of Tamuramaro's family, became public property, at which prayers for the protection of the empire were offered. Tamuramaro's descendants continued to hold important temple positions for a long time. Over the centuries, the buildings were repeatedly destroyed by fire, natural disasters, and warfare. As the Kiyomizudera was affiliated with the Kōfuku-ji Temple (興福寺) in Nara, the headquarter of the Hossō sect of Buddhism; it became a frequent target of its archenemy, the Eryaku-ji, a Tendai monastery located on Mount Hiei in Ōtsu, and their ally, the Yasaka Shrine.

A conflagration in 1629 destroyed the main buildings of the temple; reconstruction was begun in 1631 at the order of Tokugawa Iemitsu and completed two years later. Many of the present buildings, including the main hall, date from that time. The temple prospered throughout the Edo Period but declined in the Meiji Period. The new regime fostered national Shintoism, which resulted in the closure of many of its subtemples. It is nowadays one of the most visited temples in Kyoto.

Main attractions

Niōmon


The Niōmon (Deva Gate), situated between two flights of stairs, marks the entrance to the Kiyomizudera temple complex. Two Deva kings (仁王 niō) as well as two koma inu (狛犬 or 胡麻犬, lion dogs), protect the temple from evil spirits. The gate is 3,6 meters tall and has a roof made of cypress bark. It is one of the few structures that survived the fire of 1428. The two niō pronounce the Sanskrit sound "A" (on the right, with its mouth open) and "Om," the alpha and omega in Buddhism.


Saimon


The Saimon (西門, West Gate) was constructed in 1607 and is located another flight of stairs above the Niōmon and features a cypress-covered roof resting on eight pillars. The elephant heads decorating the end beams are said to be brought back from Korea after Hideyoshi's unsuccessful campaigns in that country. To the left, there is a bell tower (鐘楼 shōrō) constructed in 1596, although the bell is more than a hundred years older than the tower.

Sanju-no-to


The Sanju-no-to (三重塔, Three-storied Pagoda), just behind the Saimon to the east, was constructed in 1633 and is the tallest three-storied pagoda in Japan. It was renovated and repainted in vermillion colour in 1987.





Kyo-do, Kaisan-do, Todorokimon, Bentenjima


Several smaller structures are located behind the pagoda: the Sutra Hall (田村堂 Kyo-dō), a lecture hall that holds Buddhists scriptures, and the Kaisan-dō (開山堂, Founder's Hall), also known as Tamura-dō, which serves to commemorate the general who supported Enchin. It holds four colourful images, namely those of Gyō-ei, Enchin, Tamuramaro, and his wife, Takako. The Todorokimon (轟門 "Gate Resounding to the Call of Buddha's teachings") or simply Chūmon (中門, Middle Gate) was also built in 1633 and is guarded by two more Deva kings to protect the inner sanctuary of the temple. A small pond to the left holds Bentenjima (弁天島 Benten Island) with a small shrine dedicated to the Shinto goddess Benten. Just beyond the Middle Gate are the Imprints of the Buddha's Feet; it is said that one's sins are forgiven upon looking at the memorial footprints.

Hondo


The main attraction of Kiyomizudera temple is the Main Hall (本堂 Hondō), an impressive structure built on the slopes of Mount Higashiyama, resting on 139 pillars. The building is 58 meters long, and almost 27 meters wide, the pillars are between 15 and 18 meters tall. The colossal roof is covered in cypress bark and extends to protect the open corridors on the north, the east, and the west side. The southern "veranda" called Butai (舞台, lit. "Dancing Stage") offers a splendid view over the city of Kyoto. It was here that religious dance and music was performed.


The Hondō consists of an Outer (外陣 gejin) and an Inner Sanctuary (内陣 naijin). While the Outer Sanctuary is kept in simple unfinished wood, the Naijin and the Nainaijin (the Innermost Sanctuary) are decorated in gold and vermillion. It holds an image of the Senju Kannon (千手觀音, "1000-Armed Kannon") that Enchin allegedly carved himself. Hibutsu (秘仏, lit. concealed image) are only on display every 33 years (the last time was in 2010).

Amidado


South of the Shaka-dō (釈迦堂 Buddha Hall) lies the Amida-dō (阿弥陀堂), holding memorial tablets and a 1.9-meter tall Amida Nyorai image, depicted in a state of contemplation and with a golden aureole that displays thousands of Buddha figures in relief and raised relief.

Otawa-no-taki


The Otowa-no-taki (音羽の滝), the Sound of Feathers Waterfall, is located just below the Okuno-in, the site at which Gyō-ei's original straw hut had stood and where Enchin had carved his Kannon image. The water of the Otowa-no-taki is said to have divine powers, preventing illness, assuring longevity as well as success in studies. Visitors of the temple queue up in long lines to drink the salubrious waters from metal cups with long, wooden handles. They also toss coins into a nearby basin to placate the waterfall's deity, Fudō-myōō (不動明王), the furious chastiser of evil-doers.


Jishu Shrine


Right in the middle of Kiyomizudera lies a Shinto shrine dedicated to Ōkuninushi (大国主), a god, associated – among other things – with love and match-making. The shrine holds a statue of Ōkuninushi and the White Hare. According to the Kojiki, the god took pity on the deceitful rabbit who had been punished by having his skin peeled off. Ōkuninushi not only healed the rabbit but turned it into a good bunny. The shrine is most famous for its two mekura-ishi (めくら石, lit. "blind stones"). Eighteen meters apart, if one walks the distance between the stones with both eyes shut, repeating the name of the loved one or prospective spouse, nuptial blessings are guaranteed. Walkers who stray off their course are said to better look for another partner or acquire one of the many lucky charms available for sale at the shrine.


More photos in the Kiyomizuidera album.

Visiting hours and admission:


Admission: 300 JPY (adults) for the main part, 200 JPY for children under 15 years of age; special night openings: 400 JPY for adults, 200 JPY for children.

Opening hours: daily from 06:00 to 18:00, 06:00-18:30 (August-September); there are special night openings, usually from 18:30 to 21:00, please consult the official website for more information.

Access:


Address: 1-294 Kiyomizu, Higashiyama-ku, Kyōto-shi, Kyōto Prefecture, 605-0862, Japan; phone: +81-75-551-1234

By bus: from JR Kyoto Station with Bus No. 100 or No. 206 to the 'Higashi-Oji-dori' and the 'Kiyomizu-michi' stop, 10-minutes walk from there; City Bus lines 18, 100, 206 and 207 are available, too.


Related links

Cover photo: Emy Lam / CC BY-NC-ND

Map: