Kiyomizu-dera – 清水寺

Kiyomizu-dera – 清水寺

For Japanese and foreigners, the city of Kyōto means temples, shrines and tea culture. If we had to choose one of its attractions we would probably point our fingers to the temple of Kiyomizu: that’s why in the following article we’ll talk about this wonder, Kiyomizu-dera.

What’s special about Kiyomizu-dera?

Kiyomizu-dera is, together with Kinkaku-ji, one of Kyōto most known spots. This complex is located a few km from the city centre, on the top of a hill called Higashi-yama, surrounded by mountains and green areas.
The temple itself is not a single building, the one we all know is the so-called Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera. During the Heian Period this area was home to a waterfall called Otowa. Its water was so pure that the people of that time treated it as holy, by finally establishing the Kiyomizu Temple.

Nowadays, the water of the Otowa Fall still flows here.

The main hall was rebuilt in 1633 according to Tokugawa Iemitsu’s will. Here, the famous terrace “Kiyomizu no Butai” takes place: on its sides we can see Irimoya-zukuri styled roofs, with their prominent outer parts. The terrace lays on the hill’s slope, it is therefore held by many pillars of Keyaki (Japanese Zelkova).

Talking about the terrace, no nail has been used to keep it in shape!

Kiyomizu-dera’s fame dates to centuries ago, it is also mentioned in one of poet’s Matsuo Bashō texts.


It will be fresh,

the spirit connecting

the  pine trees moved by the wind

and the pure water

of the waterfall of Otowa


Matsuo Bashō

How to get there

Click here to see how to reach Kiyomizu-dera.


Kyōto has been our first home in Japan. During that stay we had the chance to explore it widely, including Kiyomizu-dera: we have been there in every season.

Anyway, the first time we got there from Higashi-yama’s Maruyama Park. We passed by Kōdai-ji e Entoku-in Temples, both re-calling the charming atmosphere of traditional Japan. While being surrounded by tons of ancient buildings, our personal image of Kyōto was perfectly portrayed.

The area is plenty with traditional restaurants and shops where you can rent traditional clothes and become a Maiko. There were many of these girls all around (even if they were probably just dressed tourists, we like to think they were authentic apprentices). Many tourists were gathering around them to take some pictures, including us.

The place that most touched us was Sannen-zaka, also called with its proper name Sannei-zaka. Once upon this stone stair we turned our face to the view and we felt the truly essence of Kyōto. The area is called Sannen-zaka (slope of the three years) because the legend says that who falls here will die within three years. Quite creepy. True or not, be careful not to slip, you could get hurt for real!

On the way to Kiyomizu-dera there are many souvenir shops, like those selling Japanese traditional sweets and matcha.

By climbing a bit futher visitors can find the Niō Gate and a three-stored pagoda. The main hall of the temple shows its wood, but these two buildings attract many people because of their shining vermilion red.

By passing under the gate we find the western gate, the pagoda, the tower-bell and finally the main hall: this is the top of the hill, 220 meters high. From the tower-bell you can have a wide view on the whole city.


By walking a few more meters Jishu Shrine takes place: here, besides some minor structures, the god of love matching is enshrined.

The two stones standing 10 meters far from the holy area, called “Koi-Uranai no Ishi” got our attention. It is said that, if you manage to walk from a stone to the other with your eyes closed, your love wish will become true. Many people were trying to complete the challenge and we had fun too.

By talking again about Kiyomizu-dera, we went towards the main hall after buying the entrance ticket. The building is a National Treasure. This is quite understandable because of its peculiar terrace, but also the Thousand-arms Kannon statue is unique.

This piece of art dates back to the Kamakura Period. The head is made of three faces, with 24 more faces upon them: this statue has 27 different expressions in total!

From the Oku-no-in area, were the statue stands, the view on the city is gorgeous, especially during the sunset.

By going a few steps down you can reach the Otowa Waterfall, where many visitors drink its water. This site is classified as holy from ancient times, it represent the origin of the whole complex.

Kiyomizu-dera is wonderful in every season: spring and autumn are the best times to visit it, but also the summer enriches the charm of this place. In the autumn evenings, the enlightened maple trees can make you feel deep emotions that will surely become treasured memories.

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