Friday, November 19, 2010



Kiyomizu or "Pure Water" Temple (清水寺), located in Higashiyama, Kyoto's eastern mountains, of is one of the most impressive and famous Japanese traditional complexes, is a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1994 and was one of the 21 candidates to be elected as the new 7 wonders of the world .

The history of Kiyomizu dera (dera means Buddhist temple while ji or  jinja implies a Shinto shrine) is older than Kyoto itself. Legend has it that in 778 Enchin, a monk from Nara, inspired by a dream traced the path of a limpid stream until he found a crystalline waterfall on the the hillside of the Otowa mountain, and in that the place he built a small temple in honor of Kannon, the female deity of goodness. Two years later, in 780, the famous general Sakanoue Tamuramaro walked by the place after chasing a deer for his pregnant wife, because at that time it was believed that the blood of a deer was good for fertility. Enchin severely scolded Tamuramaro for killing the animal, so the ashamed general built a temple in honor of the pure water of the waterfall, which he called kiyo mizu and finished it in 798. The original building lasted until 1629 when it was destroyed by fire, being rebuilt in 1633. Today there are still several areas under restoration.

Preceding the temple, which sits on top of the hill, two attractive walkways, are historic survivors of the 1864 fire that destroyed 80% of Kyoto, the effects of Second World War and the turmoil of post-war modernistm which has destroyed much of the city's rich historical urban landscape. These narrow and steep alleys, called Ninen-zaka and Sannen-zaka (their names mean "slope of two years and slope of three years" respectively, and are named after the superstition that if you stumble on Ninen-saka you will endure two years of bad luck, and three years if you fall in Sannen-zaka) are authentic examples of the traditional urban environment of ancient Japanese cities, defined by small businesses of tiny windows, with two-story houses located in their back. Both lanes converge in another passage, the Kiyomizu-zaka, which continues his ascent to the temple offering interesting perspectives to the pedestrian, and of course, numerous shops which offer examples of  the famous school of ceramic Kiyomizu-yaki among other traditional items.

At the end of the narrow passage, the view is opened to a wide perspective of the Kiyomizu Temple. The composition and terraced successive elements, together with bleachers and platforms that give a superb and imposing character.

Kiyomizu dera complex consists of twenty buildings, the most important being those discussed below:

Located on an atrium, the so-called Gate of the two Kings is a two-storey block with a cypress bark roof, built in 1478. On either side, two separate kings and two koma-inu lions protect the temple from evil spirits.

After another set of stairs we found the Eastern Gate, another two-story vermilion and white structure, symbolizing the reference to its Chinese Buddhist roots, covered by a roof supported by eight cypress columns. It was built in 1607 in the elaborate style of the Momoyama period.

Also called the Bell Tower. It is located to the left of Sai-mon, and though it was built in 1596, the bell was cast in 1478.

Sanju no to
It is a 3-story pagoda located east of Sai-mon. It is the tallest 3-story pagoda in Japan. From a distance, it dominates the view with its graceful slenderness; up close, it is notable for the fine delicacy of its details and decoration.

Behind the pagoda, there is a series of smaller buildings not usually open to the public, such as a library Sutra Kyodo which houses sacred Buddhist texts, the Kaisan-do (Founder's lounge) that contains colored figures and the Todoroki-mon or central gate, with similar characteristics to the already mentioned structures. A Japanese contribution to the temples imported from China is the inclusion of a fountain as a purifying element for the visitor, and in the case of Kiyomizu dera it takes the form of a dragon spewing water from his mouth.

A hall donated by Asakura Sadakaga in 1633, which contains a statue of a Kannon of 11 faces and a stone representing Buddha's footsteps. The building is raised on a stone base and surrounded by a railing.

It is the main and most representative building of Kiyomizu dera.

It is a structure of 58 mx 27 m, standing on a creek and supported by 139 wooden columns, which can reach up to 15 meters high. Interestingly, these piles are placed on stone bases, without foundations. The columns support a wide terrace that served as proscenium for dances, and at both sides are roofed galleries where the monks orchestras used to be locate.

3D image Carlos Zeballos. Source M. Sawada

Hon-do section. Source Architectural Kyoto Map

Inside the Hondo there are two shrines, the external one or gejin, of wooden floor and simple ornament has but outstanding views, and the  internal one or naijin, of stone floor and prolific interior.

3D image Carlos Zeballos. Source M. Sawada View of the GEJIN . On the left you can see the NAIJIN

The roof of the hall is a huge coverage that reaches 16 m. high  and cantilevers over the terrace. Differently to other Japanese temples whose roofs are covered with tiles, the Hon-do's roof is covered with cypress shingles. It is flanked by smaller hedges to the sides and one roof that protrudes to the east side, called mokoshi.

3D image Carlos Zeballos. Source M. Sawada

Continues a series of smaller buildings, located in front of the broken L, among which is the Okuno-in, where the first hermitage was built. From its terrace one can enjoy a prime location to spectate the Hon-do and the panorama of the southern Kyoto city.

Otowa no taki
About 15 feet below the level of Okuno in, is the waterfall that gave name and origin to the temple. The "Sound of Feathers waterfall" runs through three channels stone. It is said to have healing powers, so it is common to see rows of Japanese drinking from its waters. Interestingly its location in the heart of the valley, protected by nature and architecture as the symbolic center of the temple.

This is another pagoda that is located south of the complex, and also visible from Hon-do, emerging from the trees.

Some experts like Mr. and Mrs. Young have associated the form of the Japanese and Chinese pagodas with the stupas in India.

A stimulating tour

One aspect that catches my attention when visiting Kiyomizu dera is the evocative journey that accompanies visitors from their ascension through  Ninnen-zaka or Sansen-zaka. The narrow, winding passages unfold prompting the visitor to a unique pilgrimage. Once in the temple, the buildings are arranged leading the visitor through a series of spaces, channels and lounges, which are brilliantly succeeded, allowing to experience changes of scale ranging from the protected to the open nature. The combination of mass and open space frames the breathtaking scenery of the city from the top of the hill.

Aerial view taken from "The Urban Space of Japan"

The integration of the building fabric to the topography offers the visit multiple choices, ranging from perching on a panoramic viewpoint, entering  into a thick forest, making contact with the water from the waterfall or enjoying the exquisite view of a garden that is organized around a pond.

Photo courtesy of Tobias Wittig

The integration of architecture with landscape is remarkable, not only for the materials used and the spatial fluidity that runs between the buildings, but because the form of hedges simulates the continuity of the mountain. As a counterpoint to the mass of temples of pyramidal roofs, highlights the verticality of slender  pagodas and the contrast of the profile of the mountain forest.

Final Anecdotes 
This traditional temple has many anecdotal occurrences that I would like to briefly comment.
- During the Edo period, many people used to jump from the terrace of the Hon-do, as an act of courage. In fact, of 234 jumps, more than 85% survived the fall on the trees. From this tradition comes the Japanese saying "jump from the terrace of Kiyomizu dera" to refer to a glorious or brave act.
- It is said that in the eighth century a pregnant woman came to pray at the Koyasu-no-to pagoda and the baby turned out to become the Empress Kokken, making it a favorite destination for pregnant women.
- As mentioned, it is said that drinking water from the waterfall Otowa no taki has good properties for health, success in studies and longevity. However, water should be drank from only one of the waterfalls, because if you drink from all three, you will get opposite effects, as divine punishment for greed.
- North of the temple is the Jishu shrine where there are a couple of stones called Mekura ishi, separated from each other by about 20 meters. It is said that you have to walk from one to another with your eyes closed, repeating the name of your beloved one. If you get to the correct destination, it will ensure a happy love life, if not ... you better find another partner...

Photo by MykReeve


  1. Your post is truly good and informative I actually enjoy reading them every day. I’ve learned a lot from your post Thank you so much for sharing this nice post. Keep it up…

  2. Great Post! I'm actually about to start writing a report/ personal investigation on this temple for on eof my exams - would you be able to tell me where you gathered this information? :) my email address is:

    Thank you

  3. Thanks for all your information, Website is very nice and informative content.

  4. I love kiyomizu dera temple. Omamori of this temple is aivalable on ... I hope one day to return to Japan

  5. Very interesting blog. Lot of blogs I see these days don't really provide anything that I'm interested in, but I'm most definitely interested in this one. Ramadan Tent Rentals | الفارس العالمية للخيام | Ramadan Tents Dubai | Ramadan Tents Dubai | Ramadan Tents Rental | Ramadan Tents Rental | الفارس العالمية للخيام

  6. We offer personal loans up to $ 100,000, you are looking for a business loan and have been denied by a bank, we can help with loans of $ 5,000 to a maximum of $ 100,000 * that can help you get your business Rebuild and get you back Can bring you on a path to a better financial future.

    On time, you can apply in just a few minutes and get your money the same day.

    Do not delay! E-mail via {} or visit us at one of our sites to see how we can help.

    Thank you for contacting us,

    Best regards
    Mr.Samsul Alam

  7. Wonderful blog! You make it entertaining and you still manage to keep it smart. Thanks for sharing your knowledge! Commercial Real Estate Services Company in UAE

  8. looking so beautiful, I wanna to visit all

  9. I like traveling, to be more precise this is my passion. Frankly speaking, I write my movie review about culture of Japan which was broadcasted online


  10. Hey friend, it is very well written article, thank you for the valuable and useful information you provide in this post. Keep up the good work! FYI, Pet Care adda
    Sita Warrior Of Mithila Pdf Download , IDFC First Select Credit Card Benefits,Poem on Green and Clean Energy


  11. impressive content!
    Do you look for a Residential, Restaurant & House, Hotel, or Commercial Water Filter Provider in Abu Dhabi? View Himalayan Water Purify in Dubai sale of all water purification machines within your budget. Get Support WhatsApp: (+971) 561626444, Landline: (+971) 42640881.