Kyoto Higashiyama Flower Lantern Festival: Gorgeous and mysterious views of Kiyomizu Temple looming in the dark.
Kiyomizudera, or Kiyomizu Temple, is a famous temple on the edge of the Higashiyama district of Kyoto.
The temple, whose name translates to “Pure Water”, was founded around the year 780 AD. Centered around the Otowa Waterfall, valued for its clear water, the current temple buildings date back to 1633. Their historic significance was recognized in 1994 when the temple was included among a list of Kyoto sites honored with UNESCO World Heritage status.
The temple is probably best known for its iconic porch, which stands 13 meters above the ground on a series of 168 zelkova tree pillars. The platform offers visitors a stellar view of cherry blossoms in spring and foliage in autumn. The porch and neighboring main hall were both constructed without the use of nails. A Japanese expression “to jump off the porch at Kiyomizu” equates to the English phrase “to take the plunge”. Apparently, 234 people did just that during the Edo Period (1603-1868); those that survived would have their wishes granted according to legend (about 85% of the attempts were successful).
Kiyomizudera has several other notable buildings on its sprawling grounds. Behind the main hall is the Jishu Shrine, whose enshrined kami (god) is responsible for love and matchmaking. Visitors have the chance to walk blindfolded between two stones near the shrine that are placed 18 meters apart. Those that can successfully complete the task on their own are said to then be bestowed with luck for finding their perfect match. It’s alright to seek a bit of assistance to make it from one stone to the other, but this allegedly means you’ll always need help in your love life as well.
The temple also boasts a three-story pagoda, which recently underwent renovation. One of the tallest of its kind in Japan, the structure sports a collection of onigawara, roof tiles with demonic faces on them. Eagle-eyed visitors may also spot a dragon on the southeastern face, said to protect the pagoda from fire.
The temple’s namesake waterfall – Otowa no Taki – still sits on the grounds and offers visitors the opportunity to guzzle a bit of the water which many believe extends one’s life.
The streets leading up to the temple are a popular shopping district, offering everything from quality souvenirs to local food specialties. Be sure to stop and sample some of nama-yatsuhashi, a famous Kyoto snack made from pounded rice wrapped around various flavorings (red bean paste, chocolate, and sakura are all popular fillings).
The waters of Otowa waterfall are divided into three separate streams. Visitors can use the cups provided at the base of the waterfall to drink from one. Each stream is believed to have a different effect: success, love, or longevity. You should only pick one though, as it is considered greedy if you were to drink from all of them.
Kiyomizu’s wooden porch is a highlight for any visitor, not just for its stunning city views in any season but for its impressive construction. The porch is comprised of 168 wooden pillars and over 400 cedar floorboards, all fitted together without the use of nails, relying instead on a unique interlocking-joint system.
Famous as the Cupid Shrine of Kyoto, this small shrine behind Kiyomizu Temple houses various gods, all who aid in finding or keeping love. There's even a love challenge: love will come easily for those who can walk blindfolded between two rocks.
This shopping street leads up to Kiyomizudera and is lined with shops, tea rooms, and restaurants serving local Kyoto-style cuisine and souvenirs. Especially famous in the area is nama-yatsuhashi, soft mochi cakes filled with red bean paste, cream, matcha, chocolate, or other seasonal fillings.
By City Bus: Get off at the Gojozaka Stop on Route 206 bound for Higasihama-dori Kitaoji Bus Terminal or Route 100 bound for Kiyomizu-dera Gion/Ginkaku-ji and walk 10 minutes. The bus can be crowded, especially after 11am and on weekends and Spring/ Autumn. Alternate route is Keihan train to Gojo and 15 minute walk via Sannenzaka, or catch a taxi.
Autumn foliage is lit up at night at Kiyomizu-dera
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