Kiyomizudera (Kiyomizu-dera) in eastern Kyoto
, is a place for romantics – lovers, poets – and those who believe in wishes coming true. Its trees not only bloom with cherry blossoms but also of paper wishes hung there by the hopefuls who come to the temple to pray for love, prosperity, long life and success. Millions visit this beloved temple compound every year to find peace and an answer to their heart's desire.
Kiyomizudera ("Pure Water Temple") is named after the three streams that flow into Otowa-no-taki (Sound of Feathers), a waterfall inside the temple compound. Its waters are believed to have healing properties. Drink even as you pray for the blessings of the temple deities to be bestowed upon you.
The Hondo (Main Hall) is an example of architecture during the Heian period. You can take a look at some 30 paintings that adorn the outer hall. Inside the hall are stunning gold leaf images and an image of Kannon, the diety of Mercy who is said to have the power to grant true happiness, and the Kanzeon-Bosatsu, an eleven-headed, thousand armed diety. Here, you will also find the images of Bishamon-ten and Jizo.
The Asakusa Shrine was thus established in 1649 and the 3 persons in the legend were consecrated as gods of the shrine, hereby earning it the nickname Sanja-sama (the shrine of the 3 gods). Undoubtedly the most famous shrine in Tokyo, it also hosts the Sanja Festival in May.
Off the main hall is the veranda, an architectural wonder, with its 139 pillars supporting a sizable stage which extends over a cliff. It affords the visitors with splendid views of Kyoto and the Arashi-yama mountains. The red and orange colors that paint the leaves during spring are quite spectacular. Once, during the Edo period, people jumped from the veranda onto the forest below. It was said that those who survived will have their wish granted.
Aside from the main attractions (the main hall and the veranda), Kiyomizudera is a treasure trove of cultural emblems and architectural gems. So much so that UNESCO proclaimed it a World Heritage Site. The main temple hall, along with its veranda, are part of Japan's National Treasures, with the rest of the 15 buildings designated as Important Cultural Properties. The temple itself was originally established in 780 by the Hosso sect, which is among the oldest sects in Japanese Buddhism. A visit will provide much insight to Japanese beliefs on love, life and religion.
The first thing you will get to see after you get past the handicraft, food and omiyage stalls at Sannen-zaka and Ninnen-zaka walk is the Nio-mon (Gate of the Deva Kings) where two Nio (Benevolent Kings) stand guard. Their ferocious expressions are believed to ward off any evil that may enter. Each is named according to the sound they make – the one with the open mouth is called "Agyo" or "birth" while the close-mouthed one is called "Ungyo" or "death".
Further on is the Sai-mon (West Gate) with two other Deva Kings stand guard. You can also see the Shoro (Bell Tower) and the Sanju-no-to (Three-Storied Pagoda). The pagoda, which is the tallest in Japan, stands proudly in vermilion and is a silent testimony of the Chinese influence on Japanese architecture of Japan.
There is also the Kyodo (Sutra hall), with its images of the Buddhist gods of wisdom and virtue. Look up and see a coiled dragon painted at the ceiling. Next to the Kyodo is Zuigu-do (Temple of Mercy), Kanisan-do (Founder's Hall) and Todoroki-mon (Gate Resounding to the Call of Buddha's Teachings). At the gate, there are two more Deva Kings that guard the inner temple.
As if these weren't enough, there still are quite a number of treasures you can pore over – the footprints of Buddha in Asakura-do (which is believed to provide absolution of all sins once you look at it), a hand washing trough with water coming out of a dragon's mouth, an image of Buddha on a golden lotus flower and so much more. There is also a hall that houses about 200 stone images that protect children and travelers. Those who have experienced the grief of losing a child can try to look for an image that resembles their child. Many parents come here to find comfort – finding a similarity in any one image means that their child is at peace. The temple grounds also contain a garden which was made by two of Japan's renowned landscape artists.
Then there is also the Jishu-jinja shrine, dedicated to the god of love and good marriages, Okuninushino-Mikoto. The shrine has a pair of "love stones". Placed 18 meters apart, one can walk with eyes closed from one stone to another. Successfully traversing the path would mean that you will find love.
Feast your eyes on this veritable banquet of shrines, statues and other cultural finds that make Kiyomizudera a must-see tourist destination.