Situated atop a small mountain on the east side of Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera temple offers a commanding view of the city. The temple's huge, lattice-supported deck is one of the most famous images of Japan. But Kiyomizu-dera offers more than just a pretty view, with the experience of visiting beginning long before you reach the temple itself.
Kiyomizu-dera is accessible by bus from JR Kyoto Station.
From Kyoto Station, take the number 100 or 206 buses to either Gojo-zaka or Kiyomizu-michi bus stop. From there, it is a 10-minute walk uphill to the temple.
There are many ways to reach Kiyomizu-dera. Though the ascent is fairly steep, the journey is a key part of the experience.
Two streets, named Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka, lead to Kiyomizu-dera from the Gion area. These streets are narrow, and almost exclusively for pedestrian use.
The streets are lined with shops, many of which specialize in souvenirs or snacks. Some shops feature Kiyomizu-yaki pottery and yuba, a soy-based food that is similar to tofu. Others feature specialty items, such as wooden hairpieces used when wearing kimono and even traditional Japanese fireworks.
Alternately, from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station on the Keihan Line, you can walk up Gojozaka, a large street with narrow sidewalks. An alternative is heading slightly left from Gojozaka and ascending through the cemetery attached to the temple.
One of the best ways to visit Kiyomizu-dera is to go up through the cemetery and back down by Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka. But if you choose to climb up through the cemetery, remember to respect the atmosphere of this sacred space and the people laid to rest.
Just to the right of the main hall lies Kiyomizu-dera's veranda, the most famous feature of the temple. Supported by traditional wooden Japanese construction, it stands 13 meters above the ground and is built without the use of nails.
The veranda is usually crowded with visitors, but it's worth venturing to the furthest corner and waiting your turn for a photo with the city of Kyoto in the background.
Behind the back of the main hall lies Jishu Shrine, best known as a place to pray for luck in romance. In front of the shrine are two large stones set in the ground. If you can walk from one stone directly to the other with your eyes closed, it is said you will be blessed with true love.
From the shrine head further up to Okuno-in, another hall of the temple complex. This hall's veranda is much narrower than the main one. From this location, you can get an excellent photo of the main veranda and the city of Kyoto behind it.
Situated at the base of the temple's main hall, Otowa Waterfall runs over a small man-made grotto and splits into three streams. Visitors use special long-handled ladles to drink from one of the streams.
The ladles are for public use, so be sure to pour into your hand and drink from that, not from the ladle itself. Then return it to the UV sterilizer so that it is clean for the next visitor.
Drinking from the streams is said to pass on a special virtue to the drinker. Facing the waterfall, the stream on the right promotes health and long life, the center stream love, and drinking from the left promotes academic success. But you can only drink from one stream, so choose wisely.
Kiyomizu-dera prides itself on presenting views unique to each season. Hillsides blanketed with cherry blossoms in spring, the verdant green of summer, stark trees in winter, colored foliage in the fall; there is no bad time to visit. The temple holds illumination events during spring and fall to showcase the scenery.
Kiyomizu-dera's main hall is under renovation until 2020. You can still enter the hall and surrounding area, but photos may prove less than ideal.