Kyoto is chock-full of beautiful temples and eye-catching shrines. Kiyomizu-dera, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most famous.
As with Fushimi Inari Shrine, fame means crowds, and cherry blossom season particularly draws visitors to Kiyomizu-dera. From its high vantage, it boasts hundreds of sakura trees inside the complex itself, and out in the hills. The flowers were in full bloom during our visit in early April, so we saw the temple in all its spring glory.
A popular thing to do is rent kimonos for the day and explore the Higashiyama district, visiting Kiyomizu-dera Temple and Yasaka Shrine as well as simply exploring the narrow, shop-lined streets. There are many places in Kyoto that feel very traditional, such as the famous Gion quarter (where the geisha live), and Higashiyama is one of these.
We didn’t rent kimonos because, well, it felt a little odd. It was definitely something we discussed doing, but our group was composed of two white people, an Indian, and a Filipino. It just seemed like cultural appropriation to dress in traditional Japanese attire simply to look good in photos. However, I’m not saying you shouldn’t do that if you want to try it out–it was just something that didn’t sit right with us.
The other reason Kiyomizu-dera is so famous is the stage. This is a wooden platform that juts out of one side of the main temple, providing an even better view of the cherry blossoms (in the spring) and maple (in the fall). This is also where special religious ceremonies are held throughout the year. Amazingly, despite its size and having to handle the weight of dozens of visitors everyday, the stage was built without a single nail.
Kiyomizu-dera is a Buddhist temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon (just like Senso-ji in Tokyo, and Kiyomizu Kannon-do inside Ueno Park). Three times a year, for about a week, there is a special night viewing at the temple–a beam of blue light shines from the temple to symbolize Kannon’s compassion. The temple itself is lit up with lanterns. The special viewing begins at 6 and requires a re-entry fee.
The special night viewing was ongoing during our visit, so our time at the temple was limited. The line to re-enter for the evening was intense and we opted not to join it, but if you have the time and are willing to spend the extra 400 JPY (about 4 USD) on top of the original 400 JPY for daytime entry, then this is probably something you would want to take advantage of.
Whether or not you get the chance for the night viewing, seeing Kiyomizu-dera is a must. We actually didn’t even get the chance to see the view off the stage, but we didn’t mind! The temple was beautiful and we enjoyed our visit.
For more details on the temple itself, opening hours, fees, and an awesome map of the grounds, check out the official Kiyomizu-dera temple website.