The Temple Of Pure Water

From Ipad 276 copy

A grand viewing deck to commune with nature.

That is the principal attraction of Kiyomizu-dera (Clear Water Temple), a Buddhist shrine near Kyoto, founded in 798 AD, whose main hall is dedicated to the eleven headed, thousand armed Bodhisattva. Highly venerated for its wish granting abilities, and brought out for public viewing only a few times a year.

The wooden deck – a stage almost – extending from the main hall, juts out over a sheer precipice and is supported by one hundred and thirty nine columns. Each over fifteen meters high. Both the hall and the deck were rebuilt in 1638 following traditional methods of construction without the use of a single nail.

From Ipad 288 copy

A tradition, now banned, held that a person who survived a jump from the stage unscathed, would have his wish granted! And that is how, we were told, “Jumping off the Dera” became the Japanese colloquial term for ‘taking the plunge’!

Risking life and limb in the hope of having our travel dreams fulfilled didn’t appeal much. So sis and I settled for the spectacularly verdant views instead. Along with several hundred other tourists and pilgrims with the same intention. All the while praying fervently that the 16th century structural engineers had accounted for population inflation. Thankfully, a spot at the far end of a walkway, afforded a more peaceful perspective of the scene.

Time permitting, and for a hundred yen more than the daytime admission fee of 300Y, one can get a more atmospheric and grander view of the illuminated temple at night. And from images online, timing a visit when the cherry trees are in full bloom or when the surrounding hills are under a blanket of snow, might be even more rewarding.

I featured the Otowa no taki (Sound of Feathers) waterfall in an earlier post. The slideshow contains more images of the shrine and below are a few from the two kilometre long pedestrian approach through the historic district of Higashiyama.

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on

76 thoughts on “The Temple Of Pure Water

  1. Ah yes, I remember that lovely walk through the streets of Higashiyama and the enormous wooden viewing deck. Amazing to think that it has remained in such good shape for the last 300+ years! I had no idea about the tradition of the jump, someone would have to be very desperate to even consider it…

    1. My thoughts exactly James. Unlikely many would have survived that jump. Sounds more like the preferred suicide point, and life must have taken a turn for the better, for the few that did survive 🙂 Higashiyama was lovely, although the only place in Japan that felt a bit contrived, like the old towns in China!

  2. I went to Kiyomizo-dera myself during the lunar new year in 2011. I loved it, as I loved all of Kyoto. I didn’t know about the jumping off the stage to have wishes granted, but I learned about drinking the water from the three fountains for wisdom, health and longevity. Your pictures of the temple and complex are beautiful, as always, Madhu.

    Here’s my post about it, if you’d like to see:

    1. I can imagine. I would love to return and explore on my own someday. Thank you for the visit and comment 🙂

    1. Thank you Sally. It was. Would have been even more so, with fewer people, but that is near impossible in most Eastern tourist sites these days 🙂

  3. For those who took the plunge, I wonder if anyone witnessed their dreams coming true? My wish is that they did! A nice story about Kyoto, I’ve always wanted to visit. Have a wonderful day, Madhu!

    1. No Gilly, the cliff!! There is a path below that leads out, so I guess they would land some where near that, or roll downhill perhaps? Have no idea how one survives that, unless he/she is a cat!! 🙂

    1. You are right! I think it is the predominance of the setting in traditional far Eastern architecture, that makes them so sublime!

  4. You have been to such lovely places. You should be writing a travel column for the Daily telegraph.

    The British Health and safety people have obviously been there

    1. Ha, ha, I have no doubt Japanese safety standards are quite as high 🙂 Now if this were in India…..I might have been tempted to send my sister ahead to test it!! Just kidding 😀

      1. Health and safety people can be a bit too strict at times. My Indian colleagues have got used to the health and safety rules in the UK.

  5. The shrine is listing toward the precipice… I would have been praying fervently too! It’s a gorgeous place, of course. It would be a real treat in snow or in cherry blossom time. The architecture endlessly fascinates me too.

    1. It really was a beautiful place George. As was all of Kyoto. We timed our visit for an autumn festival in a place called Takayama, so we missed the cherry trees and the snow. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts 🙂

  6. To construct a viewing deck as an integral part of a temple is such an interesting concept – places of worship usually being inward looking. I love learning about all the different ways people think and view the world – even if I’m not travelling learning about different cultures opens up my world. Lovely captures Madhu. 🙂

    1. Thank you Meredith. I feel it might have also been used for music and dance performances. I would have loved to catch a glimpse of that thousand armed idol 🙂

    1. Oh they do Eric! And it isn’t always possible to work around them. Especially when you are in a group, as I was here, accompanying my sister. The reason why hubby & I usually travel independently 🙂

    1. Thank you Judy. It is an amazing feat! Traditional temples and houses in Kerala are constructed without nails as well, but there are none there on this scale!

  7. I love Japan. It’s so organized and beautiful. The only downside is being snowed in for several days at a hotel in Tokyo and not able to do business during winter.

    1. Oh yes!!! They are so polite, and gracious and law abiding, it is almost a culture shock for an Indian 😀

  8. As I was reading your post I was reminded again of the centuries long traditions that seem evident in so many countries, something we seem to lack in this country. To see this temple when the cherry trees are blossoming would be spectacular. Thank you for the history behind this temple. Your photography would be reason enough to travel to some of these places, but the history you provide makes these areas of the world so enticing. 🙂

  9. I cannot believe all those people on the deck!
    I love the slide show of the pedestrian approach, a nice look at a slice of daily life.

    1. Glad this stirred fond memories Stephen. I would love to return myself. Being on an escorted tour felt very restrictive, although we did try to wander off on our own a bit. Would be wonderful to have at least a week in the area.

  10. My first thought when I saw your opening photo was whether or not it was structurally safe; so many visitors. Lifting iron sandals with a post and your wishes granted. Interesting tradition.

    1. I wonder when these little fables transition into traditions?? But they are fun as long as they aren’t discriminative 🙂

  11. Strange where some sayings come from, isn’t it? As always you educate while providing us with the most amazing views of the world. I am constantly grateful.

    1. I can imagine. I went with no expectations, and returned a huge fan 🙂 Thank you for stopping by to share your thoughts Melanie.

    1. Ha ha, good one Patti! 😀 Their controlled, pacifist, almost docile behaviour belies the violence in those games!

  12. It’s a beautiful temple, but like you, I’d be a little anxious about whether it was intended and built to hold so many people at once. You might have all taken the plunge at once and wished to land unscathed. 😉

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