Yes, another temple to put on your list of top 10 things to do in Kyoto. Kiyomizudera is a must see historical monument of ancient Kyoto and an UNESCO World Heritage site. (TripAdvisor rates it as the #3 thing to do in Kyoto.)
Founded in 780, Kiyomizudera (Pure Water Temple) is an independent Buddhist temple and one of the most celebrated temples in Japan. The magnificent Hondo or main hall is built on a cliff on the eastern hills of Kyoto, halfway up Mt. Otowa on the site of a waterfall (hence the name).The temple is dedicated to the diety, Kannon, and continues to be a pilgrimage site. Kannon is depicted with 11 faces and forty arms, and revered for his mercy and compassion. It is said that Kannon is the embodiment of each person’s “invisible heart of gratitude”.
A message from the temple:
Happiness for all via a greater sense of gratitude for your everyday life.
How’s that for a timeless message that we can all strive to achieve?
The buildings and grounds are breathtaking, but the crowds can be overwhelming. I later learned that it opens at 6AM so it might be that the early risers have the place to themselves then. I imagine experiencing a sunrise here would be enchanting. That being said, night viewing, while extremely crowded, was undeniably magical. Three times per year in the spring, summer and autumn, the temple buildings are open at night and lit so artistically – the effect is extremely dramatic and beautiful. Check schedule for night viewing dates.
Nio-mon, the main entrance (above), was burnt down during civil war (1467-1477) and rebuilt in the 16th century.
The cliff-side, Hondo was rebuilt in 1633. It features ancient Japanese construction methods and was built entirely without nails (like ancient jenga). It is an impressive architectural wonder. I’m not sure my feature picture captured the massive size and intricacy of the wood construction so here is a picture that does a much better job. Photo Credit: http://www.kiyomizudera.or.jp
The views from there to Kyoto city below are quite lovely. (Understatement.)
Note: The main hall is under construction between February 2017 and March 2020 so some viewing areas may be covered, but the building will still be open to visitors.
Hours: Open 6AM, closing time depends on the season. See schedule.
Open: 365 days per year
Make a Day or Night of It
If you have time, you’ll want to explore the Higashiyama District itself, it’s one of the city’s best preserved historic districts, just outside the temple grounds. Here you can experience the charm of old Kyoto. Narrow lanes and traditional architecture transport you back in time. Take it all in as you stroll by quaint shops, cafes and restaurants that have been catering to tourists and temple pilgrims for centuries. Pick up some souvenirs here and stop in for tea, a snack or a meal.
Note: This Higashiyama District closes down early in the evenings, except during light festivals, such as the night viewings at Kiyomizudera so inquire and plan accordingly.
Looking for other cool things to do in Kyoto? Check out Nijo Castle. Ready to get out of the city and into the countryside – maybe take a dip in an onsen (hot springs)? Consider exploring the country hamlets of Kibune and Kurama.