Kiyomizu-dera is one of the oldest temples in Kyoto. It is also at the top of a steep hill, accessible only by narrow alleys, something we hadn’t appreciated when we asked a taxi driver to take us there. He of course took us as close as he could get, which was Gojo-dori, not far from the entrance to the Otani Mausoleum. He waved in the general direction we were supposed go. He meant we should take the lane up the hill but being clueless we wandered into the Mausoleum imagining it might be the famous Kiyomizu-dera.
The place was awash with visitors and hordes of buddhist monks in dark robes. No signs or leaflets in English. No obvious person to ask. There was a counter with three queues; I joined the middle one hoping the person behind the counter spoke some English. I never found out because, in the meantime, Naomi had alighted upon an information sheet in English which identified our whereabouts as the Otani Honbyo, mausoleum to Shinran Shonin (the founder of Shin Buddhism) and thousands of other dead buddhists. This explained all the scurrying about by thousands of not yet dead buddhists.
We came to the realisation the temple we sought was up the hill, but as we had missed the conventional thoroughfare we found ourselves climbing a narrow lane skirting a hillside graveyard. This was the Toribeyama graveyard.
There was a small group around one of the graves, engaged in what might have been the buddhist equivalent of an unveiling. Not pictured – I thought that would be disrespectful.
In contrast to the hubbub of humanity at Nijo Castle, we were quite alone as we climbed the steep lane. We really kidded ourselves we’d beaten the crowds and found a secluded spot. That is until we gained the top of the hill and met up with all the sensible tourists who’d come up by the right road. Kiyomizu-dera was as crowded as any other must-see sight in Kyoto, if not more so.
A side view of the gateway to the temple.
The main hall of the temple has a veranda or “stage” overlooking the hill.
As explained here by Asia Travel:
“The Main Hall at Kiyomizu has a huge veranda with 139 support beams underneath it. The Japanese language has an expression: “to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu.” The nearest English equivalent is “to take the plunge.” Tradition in Old Japan held that if you jumped from the terrace and lived, a wish you had would be granted. The practice is now illegal, but during the Edo Era (1603 to 1867) some 234 people made the 40 foot leap and about 200 of them lived. The main hall is dedicated to the goddess of mercy.”
It might have been fun to eat in the traditional way at this restaurant near the temple but there really was nothing there we could eat. Dining in Japan was a great antidote to the pounds we put on while on the cruise.
Within the Kiyomizu area, up some steps, is the Jishu shrine to the god of love. It is rather cheesy, with lots of good luck charms to buy at tin-pot stalls.
No doubt the deity in question will have looked favourably upon the entreaties of these young ladies in traditional dress visiting the Okage-Myojin shrine, in the Jishu shrine area.
We found the correct route back down the hill, via Kiyomizu-zaka, with shops and restaurants on both sides. This is where we bought Jonathan’s kimono dressing gown. There was also a shop with an automatic cookie making machine, which reminded me of the automated donut machine at the Blackpool pleasure beach.
Next up in an action-packed day was Nijo Castle – or Ninja Castle as Naomi and I called it, but then we would, wouldn’t we? Nijo Castle was the home of the Tokugawa Shogunate from 1626. The complex covers a massive walled off area near the centre of Kyoto and contains a moat and expansive gardens.
This is Ninomaru Palace:
Next morning we set about some more serious must-seeing, starting with the Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji. As we stepped out of the hotel entrance to claim our taxi the doorman asked where we wanted to go. I said we wanted to go to Kinkakuji. “Ah, the Golden Pavilion. Not Ginkakuji, the Silver Pavilion?” I hadn’t appreciated there were two sights with similar names. I could understand why he double-checked.
It was quite a long taxi ride towards the north western part of town. When we got there the place was a massed throng of tourists, nearly all Japanese. Apparently we had come in Golden Week which is when Japanese get time off and go to visit all the temples.
You cannot go inside Kinkakuji, just look at it and the surrounding lake. Although the original, a noble’s home, dates back to the 14th century, it looks pristine because it was the victim of arson in 1950 and rebuilt in 1955.
There is a Chinese Phoenix on the top.