Kiyomizu-dera – Dec. 31 07

The next day, instead of getting lost again, we decided to just take a taxi to wherever we wanted to go. Our first stop: Kiyomizu-dera temple. It’s one of the biggest and most famous temples in Kyoto. And probably one of the most beautiful places we visited in Japan. You can see the main gate in this picture.

The temple dates back to 778, but the present buildings were constructed in 1633. The temple takes its name from the waterfall within the complex, which runs off the nearby hills. Kiyomizu (清水) means pure water, or clear water.

Cool huh?

Before entering any temple its important to purify yourself (just like the Hebrews did before entering the temple, for all you Bible scholars out there) So you use this fountain to scoop out the pure water and wash your hands and face, making you ritually clean. Some people drink it too, but we passed on that…

You find pagoda’s like this one all over japan. They really serve no purpose except to look nice, and direct the viewers gaze to the heavens or to the transcendent. As far as I know you can’t go to the top of them.

Apparently there’s a popular expression in Japan “to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu”, which is something like the English expression “to take the plunge”. This refers to an Edo period tradition that said, if one were to survive jumping from the stage here, one’s wish would be granted. Can you imagine jumping off of this thing??? According to Wikipedia though, 234 jumps were recorded in the Edo period and, of those, 85.4% survived! The fall is only 13 meters high and the vegetation below might cushion or break your fall…still I wouldn’t want to try it! Needless to say you can’t jump off of it nowadays.

A funny thing about Japanese Buddha and Bodhisattva statues…the Japanese like to dress them up. So you’ll see Buddha’s wearing hats, scarves, and bibs in this case. This is actually the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha or Ojizō-sama as he is respectfully known in Japan. Traditionally, he is seen as the guardian of children, particularly children who died before their parents. In Japanese mythology, it is said that the souls of children who die before their parents are unable to cross the mythical Sanzu River on their way to the afterlife because they have not had the chance to accumulate enough good deeds, and because they have made the parents suffer. It is believed that Jizō saves these souls from having to pile stones eternally on the bank of the river as penance by hiding them from demons in his robe, and letting them hear mantras.

The path through the temple curves around giving you a great view of the main temple grounds.

Some little shops and restaurants inside the temple grounds. All of the temples we saw had little places where you could get calligraphy done for you, have your fortune read, or buy trinkets that bring good luck. We were running out of time before we had to catch our train back to Tokyo, so we couldn’t stay to eat. There was one more thing we wanted to see: Kinkaku-ji the Golden Pavilion Temple.


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