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Kyoto Travel: 7 Spots You Shouldn’t Miss in Kiyomizu Temple Sightseeing

Do you know a Japanese expression, “Jump off the stage of Kiyomizu (Kiyomizu no butai kara tobioriru)”?
The expression is commonly used in Japanese and people of other countries who are studying Japanese often ask its meaning.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple has a stage half hanging out from a steep cliff’s top. As it would require great courage and determination to jump off the stage, the expression is used as a metaphor for “making up your mind on a big decision.”

I am taking this opportunity to introduce to you about the very temple of Kiyomizu-dera and the interesting spots to check out as well as the features of the temple buildings.


1. Nioumon gate

Writer’s Photo

Getting off the bus at “Gojozaka,” the nearest bus stop to the temple, you walk along the slightly sloped street for about 10 minutes and will find Nioumon Gate, the entrance gate to Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The gate is also referred to as “Akamon (Red Gate)” for the vivid and beautiful vermillion red color and has two statues of Niou guardians standing on both sides of the gate. The statues here are among the largest of its kind found around Kyoto.


2. Three Story Tower and Kyodo (Buddhist Sutra Repository)

Writer’s Photo

Soon after passing Nioumon gate, you will come across a gorgeous looking three-story tower and “kyodo,” the hall designed as a Buddhist sutra repository.

The three-story tower was originally built in the early 12th century and reconstructed in 1632. Both of these buildings impressively feature a beautiful vermillion red color and the Momoyama style (*) gaudy-colored patterns.

* Momoyama culture prospered around the late 16th century when Hideyoshi Toyotomi conquered the whole country. Magnificent and luxurious colors and patterns are characteristics of the cultural products of the time.


3. Main Temple Hall and the Kanji of the Year

Going past kyodo, you will get to the main temple hall. Until the kyodo, admission is free of charge. The admission fee applies for the first time here to enter the main temple hall. Pay the fee at the reception and go ahead.

Writer’s Photo

As suggested by the guide panel here, the main temple hall and the stage are designated as national treasures. The temple also has other national treasure and important cultural asset-designated towers and buildings scattered over its site. In 1994, the temple was also included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage as part of “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto” and gained renewed attention from around the world.

Writer’s Photo

When I visited here, a large calligraphy of the kanji “安” written with brush and ink was displayed at the main temple hall. The photo shows the kanji selected as “the Kanji of the Year” in 2015, in the regular annual event to select a single kanji character that best reflects the passing year in Japan. A new Kanji of the Year is selected every year and displayed here at the main hall in December.

Related Articles:
安:2015 “Kanji of the Year” Announced at Kiyomizu-dera


4. Stage of Kiyomizu

Photo by flickr

The stage mentioned above makes a part of the main temple hall. Traditional performance art such as noh, kyogen and gagaku used to be performed here on the stage that almost hangs out over the cliff and dedicated to the principle Buddhist deity of the temple.

It should have been such a luxurious experience to enjoy traditional performance art with the magnificent scenery in the background. In 2015, First Lady of the U.S., Michelle Obama visited here during her husband’s visit to Japan and watched a noh play. I am really envious of her!


5. View it from Below! Wooden Structure Made with No Nails

Writer’s Photo

Writer’s Photo

The photo shows the view of the main temple hall seen from below. The main temple hall is a wooden structure built in a style called “kakezukuri,” in which zelkova pillars of 12 meters long at maximum are assembled to form a building structure without using a single nail.

“Not a single nail is used to build this structure of a height equivalent to a 4 story building!?” I was fascinated by the view of the wooden building from below, rather than the scenery from on top of the stage.


6. Otowa Waterfall

Writer’s Photo

Otowa Waterfall is known for the pure quality of water. The name of the temple “kiyomizu” literally means “pure water” and comes from this waterfall. The pure water that springs in the Mount Otowa has been ceaselessly flowing down since the time of the temple’s foundation. A sip of water from the waterfall here is said to purify your body and soul and makes a greatly popular tourist spot.


7. Koyasunoto Tower

Writer’s Photo

Koyasunoto is a vivid vermillion red colored three story tower of 15 meters height and designated as an important cultural asset. The statue of Kannon Buddhist deity, who is believed to bring safe birth and healthy growth of children, is enshrined here. The tower is said to have been used as a prayer hall by ancient emperors such as the Emperor Shomu and the Emperess Komyo (wife of Shomu Emperor) but the date of foundation is not clearly known.

Writer’s Photo

This is the view of the main temple hall and the stage of Kiyomizu seen from the area with the tower. All through the year, with cherry blossoms in spring, fresh greeneries in summer, colored leaves in autumn and snow scenery in winter, this spot allows you to enjoy the view of the temple with splendid seasonal scenery in the background.


Writer’s Photo

However many times you may already have visited Kyoto, Kiyomizu-dera Temple is always an absolute must-visit spot. The temple has been a tourist spot since around 1,000 years ago and still attracts as many as about 5 million visitors a year, which must be due to the beautiful natural scenery as well as those attractive buildings you can find here.

<Kiyomizu-dera Temple>MAP

Admission Fees (Applies to the Main Temple Hall/Stage): High School Students and Older 400 Yen, Elementary and Junior High School Students 200 Yen
Opening Hours: 6 AM – 6 PM (Subject to Changes by Seasons and Irregular Events)
Access: Take a bus from JR Kyoto Station and get off at “Gojozaka” stop and the temple is reachable in a 10 minute walk.


About a 10 minute walk from the temple along the approach takes you to another temple called Kodaiji, where the souls of Hideyoshi Toyotomi and his wife, Nene, rest. It is yet another great tourist spot you must visit along with Kiyomizu-dera. I will introduce to you about Kodaiji Temple in the next article.

Related Articles:
Kyoto’s Must-See Sightseeing: Kodaiji Temple, its Atmospheric Approach and Yasaka Tower

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About the author

I cherish the history, culture and nature of Japan. In university, I majored in history and I currently often travel to see things that I have not seen around the world through my own eyes. I hope to convey to all of you, the excitement I feel through such experiences. I hope you come to love Japan even more.

View all articles by Mikiko