Kiyomizu-dera Temple (清水寺)

Kiyomizu-dera Temple is a Buddhist temple in Kiyomizu, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture. Sango (literally, "mountain name," which is the title prefixed to the name of a Buddhist temple) is Otowa-san (Mt. Otowa). The Honzon (principal object of worship at a temple) of the temple is Senju Kannon (the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy with a thousand arms), and the founder is the late Enchin, a Buddhist monk. Although having belonged to the Hosso sect originally, the temple left the sect to become independent, calling itself "Daihonzan (head temple) of the Kita Hoso sect." It is the stamp office for temple number 16 of the Saigoku Sanjusankasho Kannon Pilgrimage (the 33 temples that are visited during the Kansai Kannon Pilgrimage).


Kiyomizu-dera Temple is not only a Buddhist temple belonging to a group of the Hosso sect (one of the Nanto rokushu (the six sects of Buddhism which flourished in ancient Nara)), but also one of only a few Buddhist temples with history started before the period when the national capital was transferred to Heian-kyo, along with Koryu-ji Temple and Kurama-dera Temple in Kyoto. This temple is also ranked as one of the eminent Kannon Pilgrimage stops along with Ishiyama-dera Temple in Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture and Hase-dera Temple in Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture. In addition, it is known as one of the best tourist sites in Kyoto City along with Rokuon-ji Temple (or Kinkaku-ji Temple) and Arashiyama, and therefore many people visit the temple in all seasons. It is registered in the UNESCO World Heritage sites as a part of the "{Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto}."

Foundation traditions

Concerning the foundation of Kiyomizu-dera Temple, there are descriptions in "Kiyomizu-dera Engi" (The Origin of Kiyomizu-dera Temple) selected by FUJIWARA no Akihira, the owner of "Gunsho ruiju" (Collection of historical documents compiled by Hokiichi HANAWA), and "Kiyomizu-dera Engi Emaki" ('The Picture Scroll of the Origin of Kiyomizu-dera Temple,' now it is owned by Tokyo National Museum) produced in 1520. Besides "Konjaku Monogatari Shu" (a collection of anecdotes), as well as a chapter of "Fuso Ryakki" (A Brief History of Japan) mentioning the episode in 798 also introduces tradition about the foundation of Kiyomizu-dera Temple. According to these books, the outline of the origin is as follows.

In 778, Kenshin (later Enchin), a Buddhist monk of Kofuku-ji Temple in Yamato Province, who had engaged in ascetic practices at Kojima-dera Temple, went north after he received a message from a dream, reaching Mt. Higashi in Yasaka-kyo, Otagi County, Yamashiro Province, now Mt. Otowa, the area where Kiyomizu-dera Temple is situated. Tracing the path for the source of a golden current he found, he came across a practitioner of austerities, Gyoei-koji (a lay Buddhist, Gyoei) intently praying to Senju Kannon in a white robe, who was confining himself to the mountain to practice religious austerities under the waterfall. The 200-year-old Gyoei-koji said to Kenshin, "I have waited for you long." "I am leaving for Togoku (the eastern part of Japan, particularly the Kanto region) now, so I leave everything to you," and he left. Realizing that Gyoei was an incarnation of Kannon (Deity of Mercy), Kenshin carved a statue of Senju Kannon out of a sacred tree that Gyoei left so as to enshrine in the hermitage Gyoei had used. This is believed to be the origin of Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

In 780, two years later, SAKANOUE no Tamuramaro (758-811) who wandered into Mt. Otowa while chasing a deer happened to meet Kenshin being in the middle of ascetic practices. Tamuramaro told Kenshin that he came to the mountain to obtain blood of a living deer for his sick wife. However, after being preached about the sin of killing by Enchin, Tamuramaro became a believer of Kannon and donated his residence as the Hondo main hall (main sanctuary) to enshrine the statue of Kannon. When Tamuramaro -- he had assumed the post of Seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") at that time -- later received orders to subjugate Ezo (inhabited area of the Ainu tribe) in Togoku, he could win the battle with the support from a young samurai and an old monk (they are the incarnations of Bishamonten (Vaisravana) and Jizo Bosatsu (Ksitigarbha) respectively, and both of them are messengers of Kannon), and returned to the capital in safety. It is believed that Tamuramaro rebuilt the Hondo main hall on a large scale in cooperation with Enchin (former Kenshin) in 798, carving the statues of Jizo Bosatsu and Bishamonten regarded as Kyoji (attendant figures) of the statue of Kannon, and then enshrined them all together. Based on these traditions, Kiyomizu-dera Temple recognizes Gyoei as the originator, Enchin as the Kaisan (founder of temple as the first chief priest), and Tamuramaro as the Hongan (promoter).

In and after the Heian period

Reportedly, Daijokan (Grand Council of State) granted temple land to SAKANOUE no Tamuramaro by issuing Daijokanpu (official documents issued by Daijokan) in 805. In addition, it is believed that the temple became the certified temple by Imperial sanction by Emperor Saga in 810, granted the Jigo (the name of a Buddhist temple) 'Kita-Kannon-ji Temple' (literally, North-Kannon-ji Temple). "Makura no soshi" (an essay literature written in the Heian period) cites a festival day of Kiyomizu Kannon Temple as a good example of rollicking events. The chapter of 'Yugao' in "Genji Monogatari" (The Tale of Genji) and "Konjaku Monogatari Shu" (a narrative literature) also mention Kiyomizu Kannon Temple. These matters show that this temple had already become a famous Kannon Pilgrimage stop in the mid Heian period.

According to records, starting with the burning down in 1063, which is mentioned in "Fuso ryakki," to that in the early-modern times in 1629, the temple building of Kiyomizu-dera Temple was burnt down at least nine times. As Kiyomizu-dera Temple had been ruled by the Kofuku-ji Temple for a long time since the Heian period, it was frequently involved in the conflicts of the 'Nanto Hokurei,' conflict between Buddhist temples in the Nara area and Enryaku-ji Temple on Mt. Hiei, and was burnt down due to the intrusion committed by warrior-monks of Enryaku-ji Temple in 1165. The current Hondo main hall is the structure rebuilt in 1633 after the above-mentioned fire in 1629, owing to the donation made by Iemitsu TOKUGAWA. Other halls were also rebuilt around this period.

Modern times

In the modern times, Ryokei ONISHI (1875-1983), the chief priest of Kofuku-ji Temple and the chief abbot of the Hosso sect, assumed the post of the chief priest of Kiyomizu-dera Temple in 1914. Leaving the Hosso sect, Onishi founded a new sect, the "Kita Hoso sect" to become the first chief abbot in 1965. Onishi served as chief abbot of Kiyomizu-dera Temple for nearly 70 years until he died in 1983 at the age of 107, and respected as "Chuko-no-so" (a restorer). Onishi devoted himself to promote the international exchange, the peace movement, cultural activities, etc. through Buddhism, which is shown in his achievements such as launching the bimonthly "Hoso sect Buddhism culture course" in 1966 and establishing "The Japan-China Friendship Association of Buddhism" in 1974.

The precincts of Kiyomizu-dera Temple

The sloping street of about 1.2 km ranging from Higashioji-dori Street to Kiyomizu-dera Temple is called Kiyomizu-zaka Slope, where many souvenir shops and others aimed at tourists stand side by side along both sides of the street. The land for the precincts was secured by constructing a stone-wall half way up Mt. Kiyomizu (or Mt. Otowa) at a height of 242 m, on which many structures stand closely. After passing through the entrance Nio-mon gate (a Deva temple gate), visitors will reach the Hondo main hall via Nishi-mon gate (the west gate), the Three-Storied Pagoda, Shoro (a bell tower), Kyo-do Hall (Sutra Hall), Tamura-do Hall (or Kaisan-do Hall), Asakura-do Hall and so on. Beyond of the Hondo main hall, in the east of the precincts, Shaka-do hall (a hall in which a statue of the historical Buddha, Shakamuni, is enshrined), Amida-do Hall (temple hall having an enshrined image of Amitabha) and Oku-no-in (inner sanctuary) in that order from the north stand facing toward a precipice. After going down the stone steps situated at the east side of the Hondo main hall, visitors will find that famous pure water is dropping through three water pipes, which are the origin of the temple name; when Kiyomizu is written in Chinese character, it means pure water.
The waterfall is called 'Otowa no taki Falls.'
Heading further to the south from 'Otowa no taki Falls,' visitors will find the minor temple of Taizan-ji Temple ahead of the valley called 'Kinunkei valley' and a small three-storied pagoda called 'Koyasu-no-to pagoda.'
In addition, there is Jishu-jinja Shrine, a Chinju-sha shrine (Shinto shrine on Buddhist temple grounds dedicated to the tutelary deity of the area) in the north of the Hondo main hall, as well as Joju-in Temple, Honbo (main priest's residence) of Kiyomizu-dera Temple further in the north.

Hondo main hall
This is designated as a National Treasure. The current Hondo main hall is the structure rebuilt in 1633 owing to the donation made by Iemitsu TOKUGAWA. It is also called 'Kiyomizu no Butai' (the stage of Kiyomizu). The Hondo main hall has the Yosemune-yane (roof that descends from the ridge on four sides of a rectangular building) thatched with cypress bark, also having transepts of Irimoya-zukuri style (building with a half-hipped roof) on both sides of its south-facing facade, all of which provide its external appearance with unique features. The front part of the structure appears as if part of it is pushing out over the slope of the mountain. That part, which is called the 'Butai' (a stage), is supported by as many as 139 long and large pillars without using any nails. Such a structure is called 'Kake-zukuri' (overhang method of construction) or 'Butai-zukuri' (the construction style like a stage). The reason why this Hondo main hall adopted this construction style is in the theory stated in 'Kanzeon Bosatsu Fumonhon' (Kannon-gyo Sutra), a chapter in "Hokke-kyo Sutra," which advocates that Kannon Bosatsu (Kannon Bodhisattva) would come to Fudarakusan-ji Temple. The Hondo main hall of Hase-dera Temple and Ishiyama-dera Temple, both of which are Kannon Pilgrimage stops, also adopt a similar 'Kake-zukuri' style.

There are three bodies of Zushi (a cupboard-like case with double doors in which an image of Buddha, a sutra, or some other revered object is kept at a temple) in the inner most sanctuary. A standing statue of Senju Kannon, the Honzon, is enshrined in the central Zushi, while a standing statue of Bishamonten is in the right-hand Zushi, as well as a standing statue of Jizo Bosatsu is in the left-hand Zushi. These three are hidden Buddhist statues. Nijuhachi-bushu-zo, statues of the 28 Attendants of Senju Kannon, are enshrined on both sides of the central Zushi, and in addition, Fujin-zo statue (statue of Wind God) and Raijin-zo statue (statue of Thunder God) are enshrined on both far sides of the most inner sanctuary.

Do boldly as if you were jumping down from the Kiyomizu-no-Butai' is a common saying used when people make a bold decision. Research of ancient documents conducted by Kiyomizu-dera Temple shows that 234 people actually jumped down from the Butai from 1694 to 1864 and 85.4% of them survived. The number of people who try to jump down from the Butai has reportedly decreased since 1872 because the government issued a prohibition on jumping down and took countermeasures such as establishing a fence.
(The fence remains in photos taken in those days.)

Other structures, etc.
From Oku-no-in, visitors can enjoy the full picture of the Hondo main hall. Although being smaller than the Hondo main hall, it adopts the 'Kake-zukuri' construction style, and therefore looks as if it is being pushed out over the precipice. Like the Hondo main hall, statues of Senju Kannon, Bishamonten, Jizo Bosatsu, Nijuhachi-bushu (28 Attendants of Senju Kannon) and Fujin (Wind God) and Raijin (Thunder God) are enshrined there. However, the statue of Honzon is not a standing type, but a seated type.

Joju-in Temple
Joju-in Temple is the Honbo, main priest's residence of Kiyomizu-dera Temple situated in the north of the precincts. The Chisen Kaiyu style garden (a style of Japanese garden with a path around a central pond and spring) is designated as a National Site of Scenic Beauty. It is not open to the public as a general rule except certain periods such as the period for special viewing in autumn. In principle, taking photos within the structure is prohibited.

Jishu-jinja Shrine
Jishu-jinja Shrine situated in the north of the Hondo main hall is the Chinju-sha shrine of Kiyomizu-dera Temple, widely believed to be a god of marriage (matchmaking). The Honden (main hall), Haiden (hall of worship) and So-mon gate (main gate) were rebuilt in 1633 like the Hondo main hall of Kiyomizu-dera Temple. By the way, the statue of Komainu (a pair of stone-carved guardian dogs) in front of the Nio-mon gate of Kiyomizu-dera Temple belongs to the Jishu-jinja Shrine.

As Kiyomizu-dera Temple has a connection with SAKANOUE no Tamuramaro, there is a stone monument erected in 1994 for performing the memorial service for Aterui and More (both of them were military leaders of Ezo in the Heian period, and were killed after being defeated by Tamuramaro).

Honzon of the Hondo main hall

The standing statue of Senju Kannon, the Honzon of the Hondo main hall of Kiyomizu-dera Temple, is a hidden Buddhist statue, kept in the Zushi whose door is opened once 33 years. This statue has never been studied academically. In addition, its photo has never been publicized either. However, the photograph of the 'Omaetachi-zo statue' (the exhibited statue in place of the secret hidden one) produced by copying the Honzon, a hidden Buddhist statue has been publicized. This statue has a unique style, because the statue has 42 arms and extends a couple of its arms overhead to clasp its hands and lift up a Kebutsu (the Artificial Buddha).
The statue with this style is called 'Kiyomizu Temple-styled Senju Kannon.'
There are statues and portraits produced by copying this statue nationwide. There is no authority in the Buddhist scriptures about such a statue with a couple of its arm raising overhead, and therefore its origin is unknown. As Kyoji, the statue of Bishamonten and that of Jizo Bosatsu are enshrined. The Jizo Bosatsu statue is unique because the Jizo Bosatsu, the motif of the statue wears Kesa (Buddhist stole) over a suit of armor, wearing a helmet and a sword in its hand.

The Honzon of Hondo main hall has been unveiled during the periods mentioned below since the end of 20th century.

From March 3, 2000 to December 3 of the same year (Kaicho (unveiling) once 33 years)
From September 1, 2008 to November 30 of the same year (This was the Kechien-Kaicho (unveiling to make a connection with Buddha) to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of Emperor Kazan's death, who is respected as a restorer of Saigoku Sanjusankasho Junrei (pilgrimage through 33 temples of Kansai Kannon). Kaicho is also scheduled from March 1, 2009 to May 31of the same year).

Honzon of Oku-no-in

The Honzon of Oku-no-in, a seated statue of Senju Kannon that is also a hidden Buddhist statue (designated as an Important Cultural Property), was produced in the Kamakura period by the split-and-join method using wooden blocks from one tree. The statue is 63.9 cm in height. It has a unique appearance with 27 faces in total, three main faces (front face, right face and left face) and 24 small faces on its head. This statue has three eyes on each main face, two usual eyes and one vertical eye on the forehead. In addition, Hohatsu-shu (hands for Hohatsu (a bowl used by Buddhist monks for meals, and as a begging bowl)), hands clasping in front of its knees, has a style making circles with thumbs and index fingers. Furthermore, features of those faces are similar to the features of Amida Nyorai (Amitabha Tathagata). Also, Sanjusan Ogenshin (the images of the 33 reincarnations of Kannon) is displayed on the halo. Thus, this statue has many peculiarities in terms of diagram and image. While this statue includes lots of characteristics of the sculptor Kaikei, he has not yet been identified as the creator.

This statue was designated as an Important Cultural Property in 2002, unveiled for the first time in 243 years, from March 7, 2003 to December 7 of the same year. Moreover, it was exhibited in the special exhibitions 'Saigoku Sanjusankasho' (the 33 temples that are visited during the Kansai Kannon Pilgrimage) that were held at Nara National Museum and Nagoya City Museum from August to November 2008.

National Treasure

Hondo main hall including three bodies of Zushi
Based on the second article of the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, the precincts of Kiyomizu-dera Temple were additionally designated as a National Treasure along with the structure of the Hondo main hall on September 1, 1993.

Important Cultural Property (structures)

Nio-mon gate
Established in the Muromachi period
Umatodome (hitching stables)
Established in the Muromachi period
Nishi-mon gate
Three-Storied Pagoda
Produced in 1607
Kyo-do Hall
Tamura-do Hall (or Kaizan-do Hall) including a body of Zushi
Asakura-do Hall including a body of Zushi
Chinju-do Hall (a guardian god hall, also called Kasuga-sha Shrine)
So-mon gate in the north of Honbo
Todoroki-mon Gate
Shaka-do hall
Amida-do Hall
Oku-no-in including a body of Zushi
Koyasu-no-to pagoda
Furthermore, the Honden, Haiden and So-mon gate of the Jishu-jinja Shrine as well as its precincts are also regarded as valuable properties along with the main building of the Shinto shrine, and therefore they were designated as an Important Cultural Property altogether.

The structures mentioned above without annotation were constructed during the Kanei period (in the 1630s).

Important Cultural Property (arts and crafts products)

Mokuzo Senju Kannon Zazo (wooden seated statue of Senju Kannon, the Honzon of Oku-no-in)

Mokuzo Juichimen Kannon Ryuzo (wooden standing statue of Eleven-faced Kannon)
This statue and Juichimen Senju Kannon Ryuzo (standing statue of Eleven-faced Kannon) that is the Honzon of the Hondo main hall are different.

Mokuzo-den Kannon Seishi Bosatsu Ryuzo (wooden standing statue attributed to Kannon Bodhisattva and Mahasthamaprapta, previously enshrined in Amida-do Hall)
Mokuzo Dainichi Nyorai Zazo (wooden seated statue of Dainichi Nyorai, previously enshrined in Dainichi-do Hall of Shinpuku-ji Temple)
Mokuzo Bishamonten Ryuzo (wooden standing statue of Bishamonten, belonging to the sub-temple Jishin-in Temple)
Four pictures of Tokai Sengaku (votive horse tablet praying for success in foreign trade, motif of three pictures among four; Sueyoshi Ship (the shogunate-licensed trading ship owned by the Sueyoshi family), motif of the other; Suminokura Ship (the shogunate-licensed trading ship owned by Ryoi SUMINOKURA)).
Itae Asahina Kusazurihiki-zu (painting on the board of a samurai warrior, Asahina, attributed to Kyuzo HASEGAWA)
This Itae is the oldest votive horse tablet among tablets remaining in shrines and temples in Kyoto City, which was the only tablet that survived the fire that burned down the former Hondo main hall in 1629. This painting has a signature from 1592. The author is believed to be Kyuzo HASEGAWA, a child of Tohaku HASEGAWA.

Tetsu Waniguchi (a steel gong, previously enshrined in Amida-do Hall)
Bonsho with a signature from 1478 (produced by Komai HENMI)

Among the Buddha statues designated as Important Cultural Properties, the seated statue of Senju Kannon is the hidden Buddhist statue, while other statues are preserved at Hozoden (treasure hall) without being unveiled. The hidden statue of Senju Kannon, the Honzon of Hondo main hall is not a designated cultural property.


Sangaku (Japanese votive tablets featuring mathematical puzzles) donated by Zennosuke and Isaburo IKEUCHI in 1892

Goeika (song in praise of the Buddha)
Mt. Otowa enjoys wind blowing from a pine grove. On the mountain, there are "Otowa no taki Falls" with miraculous efficacy. Water running from the waterfalls is quite pure. Kiyomizu-dera Temple was established in such a precious location due to an unexpected meeting of three people, Gyoei, Kenshin and SAKANOUE no Tamuramaro who were guided by the Senju Kannon.
What magnificent power Senju Kannon possesses!

Fudasho (stamp office)

The stamp office for temple number 16 of Saigoku Sanjusankasho Kannon Pilgrimage
The stamp office for temple number 13 of Honen Shonin's 25 sacred sites (Amida-do Hall)
The stamp office for temple number 10 of Rakuyo Sanjusankasho Kannon Pilgrimage (the 33 Temples of Rakuyo Kannon Pilgrimage in Kyoto, Zenko-ji-do Hall)
The stamp office for temple number 11 of Rakuyo Sanjusankasho Kannon Pilgrimage (Oku-no-in)
The stamp office for temple number 12 of Rakuyo Sanjusankasho Kannon Pilgrimage (Hondo main hall)
The stamp office for temple number 13 of Rakuyo Sanjusankasho Kannon Pilgrimage (Asakura-do Hall)
The stamp office for temple number 14 of Rakuyo Sanjusankasho Kannon Pilgrimage (Taizan-ji Temple)

Fudasho before and after Kiyomizu-dera Temple
Saigoku Sanjusankasho
Number 15; Kannon-ji Temple (Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City) -- Number 16; Kiyomizu-dera Temple -- Number 17; Rokuharamitsu-ji Temple

Encyclopedic knowledge

Kanji (Chinese character) of the Year
Since the period of bubble economy, 'Kanji of the Year,' one Chinese character representing the social conditions of the year, have been announced every year at Kiyomizu-dera Temple under the auspices of The Japan Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation on December 12, 'the day for Kanji' (however, the day may be shifted according to circumstances).

The New Seven wonders of the World
In the project to select 'The New Seven wonders of the World' carried out by a foundation in Switzerland, Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto City became the only site in Japan that went through to the final selection along with other sites such as the Great Wall of China and the Eiffel Tower in France. To commemorate this honor, Kiyomizu-dera Temple later received a letter of commendation from the foundation.

The site for 'The New Seven wonders of the World' was decided by a vote through the Internet and telephone. In the final selection whose result was announced in Lisbon on July 7, 2007, Kiyomizu-dera Temple ranked second.

Literary work in which Kiyomizu-dera Temple appears
Kiyomizu-dera Temple has appeared in various classical literatures such as "Genji Monogatari," "Makura no soshi," "Sarashina Nikki" (Diary written by a daughter of Takasue SUGAWARA), and "Ryojin hisho" (anthology of songs) since the Heian period. "Makura no soshi" cites a festival day of Kiyomizu-dera Temple as a good example of 'rollicking events,' which shows that this temple had already become famous among pilgrims during the Heian period. In the early-modern times, Kiyomizu-dera Temple also appears in the works of Joruri (dramatic narrative chanted to a shamisen accompaniment), Kabuki (traditional drama performed by male actors) and so on.


Ryokei ONISHI, the chief abbot of Kiyomizu-dera Temple, attained independence of the main temple from the Hosso sect, and then founded the Kita Hoso sect. Onishi became the oldest person in Japan in his last years, which provided him with honor to give names to the first quintuplets born in Japan.

When Kyoto City tried to designate the temples in the city where tourists frequently visit as agents responsible for paying a special tax, the so-called "Kyoto Old Capital Preservation Cooperation Tax" in 1985, Kiyomizu-dera Temple rebuffed it and caused political trouble called the "Koto-zei-sodo" (dispute over the old capital tax) in concert with other temples.


About 25 minutes walk from 'Kiyomizu-gojo Station' of the Keihan Electric Railway Keihan Main Line
About 15 minutes walk from either 'Kiyomizu-michi Bus Stop' of Kyoto City Bus (line 100 or 206) or 'Gojozaka Bus Stop' of Keihan Bus

[Original Japanese]