Japan // Kyoto & Nara //

Kiyomizu-dera

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With its trademark wooden platform overhanging the valley, Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) is one of Kyoto’s defining sights. There’s been a temple here since 778, when a visionary priest came across its fount of clear water (kiyo-mizu); however, nearly all the buildings you see today date from 1633. Pass the three-storey pagoda and step for a moment into the monumental Hon-dō (Main Hall) to enjoy the surprisingly peaceful interior. There’s actually little to see in here – its principal image, an eleven-headed Kannon, only goes on show every 33 years (next time will be 2033), so head for the terrace in front, originally a stage for sacred dances, to soak up the famous view over the wooded gorge and Kyoto beyond.

On the hill behind the Hon-dō a jumble of shrine buildings competes for the attention of people looking for luck in love. Jishu-jinja (地主神社) is dedicated to several Shinto gods, of whom the most popular is Okuninushi-no-mikoto, an ancient deity in charge of love and good marriages; his messenger is a rabbit. To test your current love life, try walking in a straight line between the two “blind stones”, set 18m apart, with your eyes closed and intoning your partner’s name. If you arrive at the other stone without erring, all is well. If not, well, it’s time for a new relationship. Finally, head down beside the wooden terrace to the Otowa waterfall, a sip of which is reputed to cure any illness, or make you beautiful, and then follow the short path up the opposite hillside from where you get the best views of Kiyomizu-dera.