The Cleansing Waters Of The Temizuya

Ritual cleansing prior to worship, is an age old practice. The use of water to purify oneself, being obligatory in most world religions until today.

Traditionally, this purification was done at a river, stream or seashore.  As religions evolved, ablution fountains and Lavers started appearing in the outer courts of places of worship. The temple tank symbolised the ocean in Hindu shrines, although running tap water is taking its place in space starved cities.

Temizuya Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

A Temizuya is a water ablution pavilion at the entrance to most Shinto shrines in Japan, for the cleansing rite known as Temizu.

Before entering a shrine, one is expected to rinse both hands with the dipper provided.  Next the mouth is rinsed with water sipped from the cupped left hand, and spat out beside the fountain. Sipping water directly from the ladle or swallowing the water is considered unclean. Finally the hands and the dipper are rinsed again, before returning the dipper to its stand.


The Kiyomizu Dera temple has another water feature besides the Temizuya – the Otowa no taki (Sound of Feathers) waterfall – that sits just below the main hall of the temple, and is a major attraction because of the wish granting properties attributed to its sacred waters. The line to drink from one of the three fountains was miles long, and I had to squeeze in between two hopefuls for this shot (below), after signing reassurances that I wasn’t going to cut the queue 🙂

Sacred waterfall

One is expected to drink from any one of the three fountains whose waters are supposed to grant health, longevity or wisdom respectively. Why not drink from all three? Because that is considered greedy and said to invite bad luck three times over! I was sure of my choice. But I balked at negotiating that long, long line, and opted to watch instead.