Kiyomizu Temple

April 12, 2004

by Yusuke Shimizu


A very long time ago, in the 8th century, a monk called Enchin was ordered to find the origin of the Yodogawa River which flows into Osaka Bay. After a long search, Enchin finally found the source: Otowa Waterfall. One day, Grand General Sakanoue no Tamuramaro, Japan’s first military leader, came to this area for hunting deer. It was said in those days that consuming deer blood had the good effect of easing childbirth, so Tamuramaro used to hunt deer for his wife. Enchin, however, condemned the general for killing animals, and Tamuramaro repented for his sin by building Kiyomizu-dera (Pure Water Temple) and dedicating it to Enchin the monk. This was in 780 AD.

There were several big fires over the centuries in Kiyomizu Temple, so almost all the buildings were burnt down. They were rebuilt in 1633 by Tokugawa Iemitsu, a very famous shogun. The temple buildings were originally colored in red, but the paint faded away as the years went by. Nio-mon Gate, pictured here on the right, was repaired in May of 2004, so it is covered with a very beautiful red.


Zuigudo, the hall pictured below, takes its name from its principal image of worship Daizuigu Bosatsu. Daizuigu Bosatsu is the mother of Buddha. Buddhism originated in India, and Sanskrit is an ancient Indian language that is the language of its classic literature. In this hall, there is nothing except for a stone on which is written the word “womb” in Sanskrit. We cannot see anything else because it is very, very dark. This reminds us of the womb of a mother. It is said that the Daizuigu Bosatsu can grant our wish, whatever it may be, so we make our wish here while circling the stone.

Main Stage

Kiyomizu Temple is famous for its very tall main stage (see below). The stage is so famous that several proverbs and expressions have arisen about it. One is “Jumping down from the stage of Kiyomizu.” We use this expression when we decide to do something bold or try something great, calling upon our best courage. Actually, there have been some people who have tried to jump down from the lofty Kiyomizu stage, but almost all of them survived In other words, they couldn’t die only by jumping down. In my opinion, Buddha wants to tell us not to die, but to live in another way.

This stage is also special compared to others because it was constructed without using any nails. While some people say it looks weak, it’s actually very strong, because 139 pillars and 90 crossbeams solidly support it. It can withstand powerful earthquakes.

Koyasu Pagoda

Koyasu Pagoda is named after an image which it contains of the Koyasu Kannon. Koyasu means “an easy childbirth,” and it is said that if a pregnant woman can reach here, she can have her baby safely. This must be linked to the temple’s history which I wrote about earlier.

The present pagoda was rebuilt in 1633, and it was moved here from its prior location next to Nio-mon Gate in1912. There were two reasons for moving the pagoda. One was simply for arranging the temple’s buildings suitably, but another was to take advantage of the more beautiful scenery now visible from the pagoda’s main stage.

Otowa Waterfall

Here you will find three falling streams called Otowa Waterfall. See the pictures below. The water looks very pure, and Kiyomizu Temple’s name, “Kiyomizu,” which, again, means “pure water,” is derived from this waterfall. Each narrow stream is said to have a different effect. From the drinker’s viewpoint, the one to the left is good for wisdom, the middle one for longevity and the one to the right is helpful for good matchmaking. However, if we drink from all of them, the good effects will be lost! This teaches us not to be greedy. Still, I can’t help remembering that these three waterfalls all flow from the very same source, so it’s up to you to decide whether you believe in this or not! The water was originally separated into three waterfalls so that more people could take part in spiritual training here.

As you can see, Kiyomizu Temple, dramatically set in the exquisite Higashiyama area of Kyoto, is a fascinating place to visit. Allow yourself enough time to see its many sights, to drink its pure water, and to wander its spacious and invigorating grounds. This is a not-to-be-missed treasure of Japan’s ancient capital.

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