Kiyomizu-dera Temple – A Guide To Kyoto’s Grandest Temple

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Kiyomizu-dera Temple is Kyoto’s most popular and famous temple and is located in the Higashiyama area of eastern Kyoto. A walk through Higashiyama will bring you past more temples than you can count, but none is quite as spectacular as the grand Kiyomizu-dera temple.

Leading up to Kiyomizudera Temple is Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka street, lined with beautiful old traditional wooden houses, shops, and cafes. These streets are an excellent place to do some souvenir and gift shopping, as well as grab a snack and something to drink.

A vast area of forest surrounds the temple, containing lots of cherry trees and maple trees, which makes this a fantastic place to see cherry blossoms in March/ April and autumn leaves in November.

Kiyomizudera Temple is one of seventeen temples and buildings in Kyoto which are part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto by the UNESCO World Heritage site. Along with other famous landmarks in Kyoto such as Nijo Castle.

Kiyomizudera is the main temple of the Kita-Hosso Buddhist sect, practicing the teachings of Kannon. The primary purpose of the temple is to enshrine and worship the Eleven-headed Fortytwo-armed Kannon, the Bodhisattva of mercy and compassion.

Praying at Kiyomizu-dera Temple is all about going within yourself and taking a good look at your life and feel grateful for it all. Something we could all benefit from in our daily lives. Come here to pray to Kannon and express your gratitude for being alive and being a part of this world, for your loved ones, friends, and family.

Due to its popularity, the Kiyomizu-dera Temple can get pretty packed and crowded, especially during the cherry blossom season (March/ April) and during the autumn leaves season (November). So head here early in the morning if you want to beat the crowds. Kiyomizu-dera opens as early as 06:00/ 6 am. Or aim.

Btw, for other temples that you should experience in Kyoto see our recommended walking route of the best temples of Kyoto. Of course, our Kyoto itinerary includes Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

To get the most out of your visit to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, you should consider joining a Kiyomizu-dera Walking Tour. This tour lasts about three hours, and you get a guided tour of the temple by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable English-speaking local guide. Included in this tour is also an authentic Japanese tea ceremony and you get to try some free local snacks along the way of the tour.

Guide To Kiyomizudera Temple

History Of Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Holy smoke at Kiyomizudera Temple
Holy smoke at Kiyomizudera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera, its full name is Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera, is an ancient Buddhist temple whose history dates back to more than 1200 years.

Kiyomizu-dera is also known as a “Kannon Reijo.” Reijo is the Japanese word for a holy place. “Kiyomizu” means clear or pure water, and the temple got its name from the Otowa Waterfall that runs through the temple complex.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple was first built in 778 in the early Heian Period (794 – 1185), when Buddhism, Taoism, and China had a significant influence on Japan. The Heian Period is named after the capital city of Japan at that time, Heian-kyō, today Kyōto.

Originally, Kiyomizu-dera was associated with the Hosso sect, which is one of the oldest Buddhist schools in Japan. But in 1965, it formed its own Buddhist sect –  Kita Hosso.

Sadly, Kiyomizu-dera Temple has been destroyed by fire more than ten times over the years. Most of the buildings you see here today are reconstructions from 1633, built by the third Shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty – Tokugawa Iemitsu.

You will find Kiyomizudera mentioned a lot in ancient Japanese art and literature, showing that it was and still is an essential and very popular temple among the citizens of Kyoto, of all classes.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto, Japan
You get a fantastic view of Kyoto City from Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Walking Route Of Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera is a vast temple, covering an area of 130 km². It has about thirty buildings scattered on the forest-covered hillside of Mt Otowa in the eastern part of Kyoto city. We will cover the main buildings of the temple, and show you which one to visit as well as the best walking path through this big Kiyomizu-dera area.

Here is our recommended walking route through the temple grounds of Kiyomizudera with eight highlights that is well worth a visit:

The map above: Walking route of Kiyomizu-dera Temple

1. Main Entrance Gate – Nio-mon

When approaching Kiyomizu-dera Temple, the first building you will notice is the impressively large and bright red two-story entrance gate. It is massive – 10 meters wide, 5 meters long, and 14 meters tall!

Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto, Japan
The impressive main entrance gate at Kiyomizu-dera Temple

The original main gate burnt down during the civil war in 1467 – 1477. Luckily the gate was rebuilt in the early 16th century. In 2003 it underwent a complete refurbishment when the whole gate was taken apart, repainted, and restored to its original grandness that you see today.

You can either enter the temple grounds of Kiyomizu-dera by walking up the stairs running through the Nio-mon gate itself. Or you can enter the temple grounds by one of the broader side stairs (to the right and left of the Nio-mon main gate). I felt like a queen walking between the two big lions and through the fantastic gate. Make sure to look up as you walk up the stairs to admire the roof and arches.

2. West Gate – Sai-mon

Next up, after you have walked through the Nio-mon main gate, is the smaller west gate of Kiyomizu-dera Temple (on your right-hand side).

Sai-mon West Gate Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Sai-mon (West Gate) of Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Sai-mon is smaller than the main gate, and the roof is entirely different, more like the roof of a pagoda. The original one was destroyed by fire and reconstructed in 1631.

You get a fantastic view of the sunset over Kyoto city from the Sai-mon, and so it is believed to be a gateway to paradise. It is a famous and sacred place for Nissokan – a meditation on the setting sun while visualizing the Paradise of the Pure Land.

Sai-mon West Gate Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Sai-mon after dark during Autumn Leaves season (November) when it is lit up

3. Zuigu-do Hall

As you walk further towards the main hall of Kiyomizu-dera, you pass Zuigodo Hall on your left-hand side. Zuigu-do Hall is dedicated to Buddha’s mother.

The coolest part of the Zuigu-do Hall is the “Tainai meguri”. Now you are probably wondering: What is a Tainai Meguri?! I had never heard of it either until we visited Kiyomizu-dera. Tainai Meguri is a corridor with no lights or windows, the symbolic womb of a female Bodhisattva.

Enter its pitch darkness and walk through the passage by following the walls with your hands. You will end up in a small room with a rock. Spin the stone and make a wish. I must admit that I found the whole experience a bit scary, but hey, totally worth it if my dream comes through 🙂

The black and white Zuigudo Hall that you see here today is a reconstruction from 1718. Inside you will see the Daizuigu Bodhisattva – a hidden Buddhist image. Come here and pray for matchmaking, safe birth, and child-rearing.

4. Main Hall – Hondo

Finally, after walking past a cluster of four small buildings, you reach the most famous building of Kiyomizu-dera Temple – Hondo – the main hall. The building you see here today is a reconstruction from 1633.

Main hall at Kiyomizu-dera Temple
The main hall Hondo at Kiyomizu-dera Temple

The main hall is a stunning wood building built without the use of a single nail! Pretty impressive if you ask me. It has a 190 m² wooden floors made of 410 Japanese cypress boards.

Only the outer part of the main hall is open to the public. The inner sanctuaries that house a small statue of the eleven faced and thousand-armed Kannon – the Bodhisattva of mercy and compassion, are only accessible on special occasions.

Hondo Main Hall Kiyomizu-dera Temple
The fantastic Hondo (main hall) of Kiyomizu-dera Temple built without using a single nail!

The most famous part of the Hondo is its huge veranda in front, called Kiyomizu Stage. It is built on top of eighteen 13-meter tall pillars made from over 400 years old trees.

From here, you have a fantastic view of the Mt Otowa hillside and Kyoto city! Performances dedicated to the Kannon take place here during Buddhist religious services.

Kiyomizu Stage at Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Amazing views from the Kiyomizu Stage

The roof of the main hall has just been completely renovated. They used three years (2017-2020) to lay the new hinoki (Japanese cypress) bark thatch roof. The scaffolding has now finally been removed. Yay! The main hall was in scaffolding the last time we visited Kiyomizu-dera, which was a bit disappointing. It has been 50 years since the last time the main hall got a new roof, so I guess it was about time.

5. Jishu Shrine

After you have walked through the grand Main Hall, walk up some stairs, and you will enter the Jishu Shrine. Jishu Shrine is dedicated to love and finding a wife or husband.

Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto
A considerable area of forest surrounds Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Here you can test your success in love by closing your eyes and walking the 18 meters between two love stones placed in front of the Jishu Shrine. If you walk past the love stone, you will unfortunately not find love…..but of course, you can walk as many times as you like until you hit the rock just to make sure. 🙂

There is also a small bronze statue, Nade-Daikoku-San. Make sure you pat him, and your wishes will come true. You can see he is a popular little guy as he is extremely shiny and well-polished. So lots of dreams around the world must have come true.

6. Otowa Waterfall

The Otowa Waterfall runs through the temple complex and is believed to be sacred. It is called “Konjiki-sui”, meaning golden water, and “Emmei-sui”, meaning life-prolonging water.

Otowa Waterfall at Kiyomizudera Temple
Otowa Waterfall is very popular, so expect some queue

The water is split into three separate streams and ends up in a fountain (see the photo below).

You can pour the sacred water over your hands, and even drink it, by using the metal cups attached to long poles. Kiyomizudera is one of the very few temples where you are allowed to drink the holy water as it is clean and safe to drink. Sip the cold refreshing water and make a wish.

Each of the three water streams is believed to offer a particular benefit – longevity and good health, success at school, and good love life. You can, of course, drink from all three just to make sure to maximize your luck, which, of course, I did. 🙂  It is especially popular among children and students, as they hope the holy water will give them good grades at school.

Otowa Waterfall at Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Drink the sacred water at Kiyomizu-dera Temple, for good health

7. Okunoin Hall

Just above Otowata Waterfall, you find the Okuno-in hall. It looks a bit like a smaller version of the Main Hall and also has an outdoor veranda/ stage in front.

Okunoin Hall at Kiyomizudera Temple
The beautiful Okunoin Hall is like a smaller version of Hondo – the main hall.

From Okunoin Hall, you have a spectacular view of the Main Hall and Kyoto city, making this a popular photo spot.

Near Okunoin Hall are some smaller halls, one of them has 200 stone statues of Jizo, who is the protector of travelers and children.

8. Koyasu Pagoda At Taisanji Temple

Koyasu Pagoda at Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Koyasu Pagoda surrounded by beautiful autumn colors in November

Koyasu Pagoda at Taisanji TempleFollow the path south through the forest, and you will reach the three-storied Koyasu pagoda, which is a part of Taisanji Temple. The red pagoda stands in the middle of the tall forest in the outer southern end of the temple area.

It is thought that visitors here will be blessed with easy and safe childbirth.

Night Illumination At Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kiyomizu-dera usually closes at 18:00/ 6 pm, but have special night illuminations three times a year when it is open until 21:30/ 9:30 pm (last entry at 21:00/ 9 pm):

  • Spring – Cherry Blossom: March/ April (2020: 27th of March – 5th of April)
  • Summer – Thousand-day Pilgrimage / Special Viewing of nainaijin in the Main Hall: 14th – 16th of August
  • Autumn – Autumn Leaves: November (2020: 18th – 30th of November)

During these illumination periods, the trees on the temple grounds are lit up, making the pink cherry blossoms and red, orange, and yellow autumn leaves sparkle. It is stunning!

There is also a beam of blue light from the temple that embodies Kannon’s compassion.

We visited Kiyomizu-dera Temple at the end of November, and the autumn leaves were beautifully lit. The illumination makes the autumn colors of red, orange, and yellow pop even more. We particularly love the area around the small lake, which is surrounded by trees in sparkling colors reflecting on the water like a mirror. Fantastic!

Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto, Japan
Autumn leaves illumination at Kiyomizu-dera Temple is spectacular!

These night illumination periods are especially popular both among tourists and locals, and you can expect it to get crowded at the temple in the evenings.

Opening Hours & Ticket Prices Kiyomizu-dera Temple

  • Opening hours:
    06:00/ 6 am – 18:00/ 6 pm
    Special night viewings during spring, summer, and autumn when it is open until 21:30/ 9:30 pm.
    See the temples opening hours in more detail here
  • Ticket price:
    400 Yen = US$ 4 adult, 200 Yen = US$ 2 child
  • How to get to Kiyomizu-dera Temple:
    From Kyoto Station, take bus number 100 or 206 (15 minutes bus ride, 230 Yen). Get off at the bus stop Gojo-zaka or Kiyomizu-michi. Walk for about ten minutes uphill, and you will reach the temple. Alternatively, take the Keihan Railway Line to Kiyomizu-Gojo Station. It is about a 20-minute walk from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station up to Kiyomizudera Temple.
  • Kiyomizu-dera Temple’s Official Webpage (which is super cool!)

Where To Stay In Kyoto

Kyoto has a lot of accommodation options to choose from in many different areas of Kyoto. Click here to read our complete guide to our favorite Kyoto areas and hotels.

Century Hotel Kyoto
We highly recommend this hotel, as we loved it! The best hotel we stayed at throughout our entire Japan trip!  

Century Hotel Kyoto
The beautiful lobby at Century Hotel Kyoto

The rooms are big and beautiful decorated, with huge comfortable beds. Great service from the staff and excellent location just next to Kyoto Train Station (100 m walk). You will love this hotel!
Click for latest prices

Hotel Mystays Kyoto Shijo
We stayed at Hotel Mystays in Tokyo and it was fantastic! Hotel Mystays is a business hotel chain. The rooms are not the biggest but have everything you need and more (even slippers!).

The location of Mystays Kyoto is perfect, close to Maruyama park and many shrines, and very close to a subway station (300 m) and bus stops. There is a good selection of restaurants nearby and there is a supermarket next to the hotel. It is a quiet hotel, and all rooms have good wifi. There is a laundry room with washing machines and a dryer and a coffee machine in the lobby that you can use for free.
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Karasuma Kyoto Hotel
A nice budget hotel centrally located with plenty of eating places within a short walk. It is within walking distance to the Gion area and to Nishiki market. Reasonably sized rooms (big for Japan) and have a small fridge and coffee/tea maker. The breakfast is delicious. The bathroom is fully equipped with all the necessary toiletries.

There is a Starbucks next to the hotel, and the hotel is close to a big supermarket, many restaurants, as well as bus stops and a subway station (2 stops from Kyoto Station). Take subway Karasuma Line to Shijo Station (exit 6).
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That’s it, our guide to visiting Kiyomizu-dera Temple – one of the biggest highlights of Kyoto.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple should be on your list if you plan on going to Kyoto. Check out what else you should not miss when going to Kyoto on our recommended 3-day Kyoto Itinerary, which of course, includes Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

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Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto, Japan      Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto, Japan

Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto, Japan      Kiyomizudera Temple, Kyoto, Japan

After reading this, will you visit Kiyomizu-dera Temple when going to Kyoto? If you have already been to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, what do you think of it? Do you have any questions about visiting Kiyomizu-dera? We would love to hear from you in the comment area below! Thanks! 

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About The Writer Maria Wulff Hauglann

Maria is a Norwegian travel nerd who has explored more than thirty countries on four continents. She holds a master's degree in Computer Science, as well as an MBA. In 2014 while on a year-long trip across South East- Asia, Maria co-founded the travel blog Nerd Nomads to help others get out and explore the world. In 2018 she left her day job permanently for a life of full-time travel. See our about page for more about Maria.

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