Kiyomizudera ("Temple of the Pure Water"), is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Kyoto, Japan. Located dramatically on the side of a cliff in the eastern "Higashiyama" district of the city, right next to the famous geisha district of Gion, Kiyomizudera is the headquarters of the "northern branch" of the Hosso sect of Japanese Buddhism, and receives more visitors annually than any other temple in Kyoto.
Kiyomizudera is usually approached from Gion via the famous winding "Sannenzaka" street. Visitors then head up a long street lined with souvenir shops and shops selling tasty Kyoto meibutsu such as yatsuhashi. Finally arriving at the top of the hill, visitors pass the massive orange saimon ("Western Gate") and the iconic sanju-no-to ("Three-story pagoda", the tallest three-story pagoda in Japan), before entering the main temple.
The main hall of Kiyomizudera, dedicated to Kannon, the bodhisattva of mercy, juts out over the edge of a 13-meter precipice, on a platform supported by 139 massive pillars hewn from the trunks of Japanese cypress trees. This platform, called the "Kiyomizu stage" in Japanese, is famous throughout Japan, and was the origin of a Japanese proverb "to leap from the Kyomizu stage", which is the equivalent of the English proverb "to take the plunge".
In olden days it was believed that if you leapt from the Kiyomizudera stage and survived, your fondest wish would come true. During the Edo Period alone, temple records chronicle that 234 people leapt from the stage, of which 85.4% survived and presumably had their fondest wish come true. Alas, this practice is no longer allowed, and large barriers have been erected along the edge of the platform.
The platform does provide fantastic views of the city, however, and remains a major attraction. In addition, the gorge below the platform is full of Japanese maple trees, which turn brilliant shades of red and orange in the fall. Across the gorge there is also the picturesque koyasu-no-to ("Easy Child-Birth Pagoda"), which contains an image of the Koyasu Kannon ("Easy Child-Birth Kannon").
Wandering down the path into the bottom of the gorge, visitors will finally arrive at the Otowa waterfall, which is the "pure waters" from which the temple gets its name. The waterfall is divided into three different streams, which according to legend can provide the drinker with wealth, wisdom, or love respectively (sometimes "longevity" is substituted for one of the streams), and there is usually a huge line of tourists waiting to drink the water from special long-handled cups provided by the temple. It is said that if you drink from one of the streams, your wish will definitely come true, if you drink from two they might come true, but if you selfishly drink from all three you will be cursed by the gods, so it is important to chose carefully.
Kiyomizudera is also the home of the Jishu shrine, a Shinto shrine to the god of love and happy matches, Ōkuninushi. Somehow, this shrine within a Buddhist temple was overlooked and survived the forced separation of Shinto and Buddhism during the Meiji Period. There are two famous rocks in front of the shrine, 18 meters apart, and it is said that if you can successfully navigate from one to the other while keeping your eyes closed the entire time, you will successfully find the love of your life. It is legal to have someone guide you, but then finding your true love will similarly require the aid of an intermediary.
The original temple that would become Kiyomizudera was founded by the priest Enchin in 778, after he had a vision that he would find a source of pure water. When he was searching for the water in his dream, he met a hermit named "Gyoei," who was practicing mountain asceticism. The hermit gave Enchin a piece of wood possessed with the spirit of Kannon, which he used to help him locate the pure water. Enchin then enshrined the piece of wood in a thatched hut he built next to the water. Later, when Enchin went to look for the hermit to thank him, he couldn't find him anywhere, but only found his sandals on top of the mountain, and thus realized that the hermit had actually been a manifestation of Kannon.
Years later, when emperor Kammu moved the imperial capital to Kyoto, one of his leading generals, Sakanoue Tamuramaro, donated a new main hall to the temple, after meeting Enchin while out deer hunting and being moved by Enchin's admonition not to harm other living things. This main hall survived hundreds of years until it was destroyed by fire in 1629. The current hall was rebuilt in 1633, under the patronage of the third Tokugawa shogun Iemitsu.