Posts Tagged ‘ Kiyomizudera photos ’

Kyoto’s Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺)

Note on Photos:  I took all the photos and snapshots below, on multiple trips to Kiyomizu-dera*. They go back as far as 20 years.  Different seasons, different times of day, snapped with various cameras (from a Pentax K-1000 to a Motorola Android phone, and several others).  Note how the light, composition, resolution and “feel” varies from photo to photo.

Kiyomizu-dera. Main Hall looking south. May 2010.

We have a history.

As with so many other places in Kyoto, I first visited Kiyomizu-dera in the fall of 1984, when I was an exchange student at nearby Kansai Gaidai (University).  Yet the earliest photos I can find are from 1990, when I got back to Japan to teach in a rural middle school in Hyogo Prefecture, a couple hours away from Kyoto.  Before getting sent to our various school assignments, though, a pack of us Hyogo Prefecture “JET Program” teachers took at day trip into Kyoto from Kobe and I’ve managed to find a couple photos from that trip.  Since then I’ve returned many times with various people and groups.  Though I now “guide” people to Kiyomizu-dera, it never fails to amaze me.  Many memories are wound-up with it, too.  .  .

Kiyomizu-dera Entrance, Niomon Guardian Gate (仁王門) in foreground. 2010.

Better late than never

I need to write more on Kyoto’s better-known sights.  Ryoan-ji temple, with its famous rock garden, is the only one I’ve so far written about.  I’ve photo-essayed on lesser-known (to the Westerner) shrinestemplesart and antique streets, Kyoto’s most famous flea market, the main train station, and coffee shops and restaurants.  But not so much the “Centerpiece Destinations.”  This is no definitive history or even textbook summary on Kiyomizu-dera.  Instead, I’ll just provide some general, solid information, good links, and photos that I hope will make those who’ve not yet traveled to Kyoto want to go. If you’ve already been, I hope this will help bring back some memories.

Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) Buddhist Temple

One of the more popular places from which to photograph Kiyomizu-dera. October 1999.

Kiyomizu-dera means “Pure Water Temple.”  Pre-dating the establishment of Kyoto by 16 years, Kiyomizu-dera was founded in  778 C.E. by the Buddhist priest Echin.  The complex hugs and is built into the side of Mount Otowa, which itself is part of Kyoto’s long, continuous East-side Mountains (Higashiyama).  The  present layout and complex was rebuilt in 1633 under the patronage of the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu.  In 1994 Kiyomizu-dera was placed on UNESCO‘s registry of World Heritage Sites.  It’s also on Japan’s National Treasure list.


Jumping Off Kiyomizu’s Stage

One of Kiyomizu-dera’s main distinguishing features is its famous stage, or veranda, which juts out from the Main Hall over a ravine, affording visitors a great view of the mountain just across the ravine, southern Kyoto off to one’s right (see and click on photo below) and of other visitors almost 50 feet down below at the “Otowa no Taki” waterfall (see explanation and photos below).  The veranda’s held up by 139 massive keyaki (Japanese zelkova) pillars and more than 400 cypress cross-beams. . . without using a single nail.  It also spawned a Japanese saying or “kotowaza”  — “Leap off Kiyomizu’s stage”   清水の舞台から飛び降りる (きよみずのぶたいからとびおりる).  This translates into English as “Go for it,” or “Take the plunge.”

Looking directly west, past the southern side of the Pagoda. 2010.


Looking towards the famous “stage,” veranda. 2010.


CLICK on this one. View of Kyoto from the Stage/Veranda. 2010.


In front, looking towards Niomon. 2007.


Saimon, “West Gate,” with 3-tiered pagoda behind. 2010.

Jishu-jinja (Shinto Shrine)

Incorporated, but technically separate from, Kiyomizu-dera is Jishu-jina (“Jinja” meaning Shinto Shrine), which is dedicated to the Shinto deity of love and “good matches,” Okuninushi no Mikoto (his companion’s a rabbit).   Two stones, each set firmly in the ground near the shrine, are spaced about 30 feet (10 meters) apart.  If one can successfully walk from one rock to the other while thinking of their hoped-for love with eyes closed, the desired romance will ensue.  So goes the legend, and the daily practice, at Jinshu-jinja.


Tourists. Just through the Niomon, entering Kiyomizu-dera proper. 2011.


Walking on Sannenzaka towards Kiyomizudera (up and to the left). 2006.

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Three “Otowa no Taki” pics. . .  over 20 years.

Here’s some of what Judith Clancy, in her wonderful guidebook (which I highly recommend), Exploring Kyoto: On Foot in the Ancient Capital, says about the Otowa no Taki:

Just beyond the three restaurants is Otowa no Taki, the ‘Sound of Feathers Waterfall,’ from which water is channeled into three spouts that pour down from above.  Long-handled dippers are available for visitors to sample the clear, delicious water that inspired Echin to build his hermitage here, and which is the course of the temple’s popular name, which means ‘Temple of Pure Water.'”



August 1990.


Late September 2001.


Late May 2010.

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A 鳥’s-Eye View:  My Google Map of Kiyomizu-dera

“Grab” and move the image about, click on the little blue icons for information.

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Getting to Kiyomizu-dera

To quote extensively from this very good Kiyomizu-dera site:

[F]irst make your way up Ninen-zaka & Sannen-zaka walk, past the Omiyage shops until you reach the main gate of Kiyomizudera. . .  Walking from there into the temple you will walk under the Nio-mon or Gate of the Deva Kings. The Deva Kings, along with Korean lion-dogs (koma-inu) protect the temple from any evil that may enter. The right Deva King has his mouth open, pronouncing “A”, the first sound of Sanskrit while the other has his mouth closed, pronouncing “UN”, the last sound. Thus, it is thought that the Deva Kings represent the complete teachings of Buddha.

Continuing past the Nio-mon, you go up a second flight of steps to the Sai-mon (West Gate). Two more Deva Kings stand guard at this eight pillared gate built in the early 17th century.  To the gate’s left one can see the Shoro (Bell Tower) built in 1596, though the temple’s bell was cast in 1478.  Above the flying brace of the tower one can see the imperial Chrysantheum crest. . .


Afternoon sun on Jizo Bhodisattvas at Kiyomizu-dera. 2008.


*I write “Kiyomizu-dera” with the hyphen between the “Kiyomizu” and the “dera” to underscore the fact that the name of the temple is “Pure Water” (Kiyomizu  清水 ) “Temple” (dera  寺 ).  Most often in English it’s written as one long word:  “Kiyomizudera.”  The written Japanese is actually simpler, just three kanji, or Chinese-type characters, as shown in the title of this piece:   清水寺. So in Japanese it is one word, no hyphen.  But, again, I want English-only readers to better understand how the word is divided up.

Kiyomizu-dera ticket stub. From 2010.


Omiyage ・ おみやげ: Gifts & Gift Giving.


Local pickled veggies & other omiyage-friendly treats. Kurama. 2011.

=  for more on Kurama, a small town just north of Kyoto, click here  =

Every culture has its gift-giving traditions.  A customary Russian, Slavic, welcome brings bread and salt with it. Gift-giving is a big deal in Egypt, too, when visiting someone’s home. One could write a book on gift-giving customs around the world.  I’m sure it’s been done, in fact.

Gift giving — when visiting friends or relatives, when going on or returning from a business trip or vacation, when coming back from a day trip to this or that tourist spot or hiking trip or most any leisure activity — is huge in Japan.  These gifts are calledOmiyage” (Oh・mee・yah・gay or おみやげ ).  There’s a whole industry, an entire economic sector, dedicated to making and selling gifts for travelers.  One just can’t visit Kyoto from Tokyo, or Hiroshima from Osaka, or Kinosaki from Yokohama, etc., without bringing back omiyage from family and friends and, if it’s a business trip, office colleagues.  There’s simply no counterpart in North America or any other Western country that I know of.

In the West we certainly have (cheap, plastic, crappy) souvenir and gift shops in abundance at all our amusement parks, ball fields, tourist destinations and the like.  And when it occurs to the U.S., one can pick up a Chinese-made Washington, D.C. snow globe, or Las Vegas key chain, but it’s just not the same.

Here’s some of what one site says about omiyage:

Any time you go on a trip or go to an unusual event, it is expected that you will return bearing gifts. However, most of these gifts are not things to be kept and cherished, but rather food to be quickly consumed and forgotten – space is at a premium in Japan, and so the best gift is something that takes up little space, preferably none. Sure, there is the odd ear cleaner for your grandfather or mobile phone strap for your girlfriend, but since you need to have something for everybody in the class or office, the most common item is a box of small confectionaries. Ideally these sweets are a local specialty of whatever place you travelled to, or otherwise represent that place in some way, but often they are just cakes or chocolates that some company has put in a shiny box.

In fact, the actual contents of the gift don’t really matter. In a perfect example of “it’s the thought that counts,” everyone will happily accept your gift and exclaim that it is indeed very delicious. It doesn’t matter that even though you went to Hokkaido, you actually bought your omiyage at Narita Airport. The point is, you went away and returned bearing a box of over-priced mochi.  

Every major train station is jam-packed with omiyage stores and kiosks, most of which are filled with beautifully-wrapped boxes of sweets (but not nearly as sweet as Western sweets), baked goods, rice cakes, local specialties.    The convenience stories in those stations have omiyage sections.  Many middle-sized and minor stations have their omiyage kiosks as well.  Of course all the tourist spots — the temples and shrines, the nature trails, the hot springs, the museums — have their in-house or nearby omiyage stores and souvenir shops, not unlike their Western counterparts, but moreso.

Omiyage & Souvenir Central. Outside of the Silver Pavilion, Kyoto. 2010.

Business travelers to Japan, and those who welcome business travelers from Japan, are disadvantaged compared to their Japanese counterparts.  For the Japanese can just pick up as much or many omiyage as they want at the airport on their way out.  Again, American and Dutch and British and Mexican and Canadian, etc. airports have their souvenir shops, but just not of the kind, nature or volume of Japan’s omiyage shops and stands and kiosks.

Omiyage (おみやげ) Store. Kinosaki Onsen (hot spring・bathouse town). 2001.

=  For more on Kinosaki Onsen, click here  =

One business innovation I’ve just recently discovered, after I received a traditional, multi-wrapped box of wagashi snacks (see photos below) from a Japanese businessman visiting from New York, are the Japanese omiyage shops stationed and staged round the world.  These are for Japanese business-types who are themselves posted or on assignment in cities around the world who are called upon to travel to other places in the country they’re based in.  What are they to do for traditional Japanese omiyage?  Now there’s an answer:  go to the traditional Japanese omiyage store in New York, or London, pick up the appropriate number of boxed and wrapped treats, and present them accordingly when visiting Birmingham, Alabama, or Birmingham, England.  It’s like staging blankets, tents and food in those areas of there world where you know an earthquake or hurricane will likely someday hit.

The aforementioned “Omiyage-Abroad” company is Minamoto Kitchoan and by visiting its website you can get a good idea of traditional omiyage.

Omiyage Unwrapped: made in Japan, purchased in NYC, given in Birmingham, Alabama.


In the photo below you can see Sunday afternoon tourists emerging from the maw of omiyage and souvenir shops that line the street on the way up to Kiyomizu-dera (temple) in Kyoto.

Kiyomizuzaka (with Kiyomizudera immediately behind me). May 2010.

Here’s another view of one of the approaches to Kiyomizu-dera, which is stiff with restaurants, tea houses, omiyage and souvenir shops –

Sannenzaka (pedestrian street). Nearing Kiyomizu-dera. May 2010.

=  For more photos from Kyoto, click here and here and here  =

Of course the Duty Free Shops, this one at Narita Airport in Tokyo, are good for buying “less traditional” omiyage (cigarettes and liquor).  Liquor used to be a very common omiyage among international travelers, but not so much these days.

Duty Free Shop. Narita Airport (Tokyo). August 2012.

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Bringing Omiyage to Japan, tips:

   * There are no hard-and-fast rules.

   * The more “local” the gift (from your city, your area, your state/province) the better.

   * Food is good, but it will need to travel well and some foods (meats, sausages, for example) are subject to Customs confiscation.

   * The gift should be wrapped.  I’ve started packing wrapping paper, cheap scissors and tape in my checked baggage and just wrapping gifts in my hotel room upon arrival in Japan.

   * Local “coffee table” books — with nice, scenic, historical, culturally-informative photos and simple explanations about where you’re from always make good gifts.

   * I’ve bought sheets of interesting U.S. stamps, have had them inexpensively framed, and have given them as omiyage. Their flat, light, not subject to breaking (if packed well) and unique.

   *  You should offer the omiyage with both hands, and accept omiyage given to you in the same way.  It’s just polite.

   *  For lots more on traveling to Japan, especially for the business traveler, please check:  “So you’re going to Japan.