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Japan: Kiyomizu-dera

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Kiyomizu-dera | Japan | Asia

[Visited: November 2015]

It is getting late when I walk up the hill to the entrance of Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple complex a little up the hills on the eastern side of Kyoto. The open space at the foot of Kiyomizu-dera is full of cheerful people posing for pictures, and the feel I get is almost carnivalesque. A stark contrast with the tranquility you might expect at an 8th century temple which has been a destination for pilgrims ever since it was built around a sacred spring which gave the temple its name: kiyomizu means pure water. Many Japanese girls walk around in a colourful traditional Japanese dress; they are a colourful addition to the bright colours of the temple where orange is the most prominent. I walk up the stairs to the first platform. Above me, the West Gate appears at the end of closed-off stairs with two big stone lanterns on both sides. More to the left, the Gate of the Deva Kings looms high above me, and I climb the stairs to get a closer look.

Picture of Kiyomizu-dera (Japan): View over the city of Kyoto and surrounding mountain with the Gate of the Deva Kings in the foreground

Right next to the Gate of the Deva Kings is the Three Storied Pagoda, the tallest building of the complex. I get up close which allows me to appreciate the fine decorations on the beams of the pagoda. Two Japanese girls in traditional dress are taking pictures of each other, and the crowds are elsewhere. I now feel the serenity of the place. I walk down to the West Gate, or Sai-mon, from where there are sweeping views over Kyoto and the surrounding mountains, over which a rain cloud is slowly moving through the blue sky. Walking past the Three Storied Pagoda again, I arrive at Zuigu-do, or Zuigu Hall. After putting my shoes in a plastic bag and paying my entrance ticket, I enter the Tainai-meguri. This is a symbolic walk through the womb of Daizuigu Besatsu, a female Bodhissatva, and it allows anyone the opportunity to be reborn. Walking down the stairs is still OK, but then, you have to keep one hand on a rail in the wall to guide you through total darkness. Then, a dimly lit stone with a Sanskrit character on it appears, and I spin it around to make a wish. The dark corridor meanders a little more before a faint spot of light announces the end of the tunnel, or euh, womb, and I climb the stairs to get out into broad daylight again. The old ticket lady gives me a big smile before I continue my exploration of Kiyomizu-dera.

Picture of Kiyomizu-dera (Japan): Stairs leading up to the West Gate and the Three Storied Pagoda in the background

There is an entrance fee for Hondo, or Main Hall, and just opposite, I find a heavy metal item which can be lifted in a small open building. The Main Hall is full of people; some praying in silence, most taking selfies and talking loudly. It is a dynamic place, with constantly shifting realities. There is a big veranda outside, with views over a narrow valley below, the Easy Child Birth Pagoda on a neighbouring hill, and the Otowa Waterfall below. I walk uphill to Jishu-jinja, where I had hoped to walk blindfolded between two stones, for luck in romance, but alas: there are so many people around that this seems impossible. I take the walkway to the other side of the narrow valley, and have to push my way through a thick crowd, with good views of the Main Hall and its enormous wooden veranda, before I descend into the valley and line up for the waterfall. The recipe for a long life, good health and success in studies: stand under the roof over which the water runs down, take a ladle, scoop some water from the Otowa waterfall, and drink it. From here, I walk past some smaller buildings, Buddha statues, an 11-stories stone stupa, and a pond, before I reach the exit. Night is about to envelope Kiyomizu-dera, and lights now make the temple complex stand out in the dark. It is time for dinner.

Picture of Kiyomizu-dera (Japan): Detail of the Three Storied Pagoda
Picture of Kiyomizu-dera (Japan): View over Kyoto with the roof of the Gate of the Deva Kings in the foreground
Picture of Kiyomizu-dera (Japan): Looking up the Gate of the Deva Kings, the West Gate, and the Three Storied Pagoda
Picture of Kiyomizu-dera (Japan): Nio-mon, or Gate of the Deva Kings
Picture of Kiyomizu-dera (Japan): Richly decorated beams of the Three Storied Pagoda, or Sanju-no-to
Picture of Kiyomizu-dera (Japan): Roof of the West Gate or Sai-mon
Picture of Kiyomizu-dera (Japan): Trees in autumn colours surrounding the Hon-do, or Main Hall of Kiyomizu-dera
Picture of Kiyomizu-dera (Japan): Four stone lanterns below the West Gate Building, or Sai-mon
Picture of Kiyomizu-dera (Japan): The beams of the Three Storied Pagoda seen from below
Picture of Kiyomizu-dera (Japan): Sanju-no-to, or Three Storied Pagoda
Picture of Kiyomizu-dera (Japan): Detail of the Sanju-no-to, or Three Storied Pagoda, with bell hanging from orange roof
Picture of Kiyomizu-dera (Japan): The Eleven-stories stone stupa is located in the lower section of the Kiyomizu-dera complex
Picture of Kiyomizu-dera (Japan): Visitors drinking water from Otowa-no-taki waterfall, bringing them a long life, good health, and success in studies

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