Kiyomizudera Temple Info: Kyoto, Japan Tips

Kiyomizudera is one of the most popular temples in Japan. Also known as the “Pure Water Temple,” it’s a Kyoto highlight, UNESCO World Heritage Site, and unequivocal must-do. This post features my photos from the temple, plus tips for avoiding crowds, and other assorted info about it. (Updated June 15, 2020.)

Let’s start with some good news. After undergoing major renovations over the course of the last decade as part of the Heisei Big Renovation, work on Kiyomizudera Temple is finally complete. During this massive refurbishment project, nine of the temple’s buildings, including the main hall, were covered by scaffolding and restored.

Most recently, the iconic main hall (pictured above) essentially had a giant warehouse built around it. The visual impact this had at Kiyomizudera Temple was significant, as the wooden stage jutting out from the main hall with Kyoto in the background is the iconic scene at this temple, and the scaffolding around the main hall was visible from pretty much everywhere in Kiyomizudera.

This work was being done with the goal of completion by the Tokyo 2020 Olympics (which have since been postponed until July 2021), and work finally has finished. Kiyomizudera’s main hall with its restored roof is once again visible, and the popular temple is now devoid of all signs of construction.

That’s great news for anyone planning a trip to Japan, as Kiyomizudera is one of Kyoto’s must-see temples…

Perched in a beautiful location between one of Kyoto’s most beautiful historic districts and the Higashiyama foothills, Kiyomizudera Temple ranks #3 on our Top 100 Temples & Shrines in Kyoto, Japan. In fact, aside from Fushimi Inari Shrine (#2), it’s the spot we visit most in Kyoto. Since originally writing this post a few years ago, we’ve returned to Kiyomizudera over a dozen times and experienced it in every season.

The two most notable and unique experiences are during autumn foliage and spring cherry blossom seasons. I wrote about the latter in our Visiting Kiyomizudera Temple for Night Illuminations During Sakura Season post and the former in our Kiyomizudera Fall Colors Evening Lighting post. Kiyomizudera is always not to be missed, but during those special events, you will want to visit twice. Additionally, just about all of our 1-Day to 1-Week Itineraries for Kyoto, Japan include a stop at Kiyomizudera.

Before we get into tips for experiencing this temple, let’s start with a bit of background. Kiyomizudera was built in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall and the literal translation of the temple’s name to “Pure Water Temple.”

Since its original founding, most of Kiyomizudera’s buildings have been destroyed numerous times due to fire, and have been rebuilt again and again. Most of the present buildings were reconstructed in 1633. Kiyomizudera Temple was registered on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto in 1994.

Variety is probably the best way to describe why Kiyomizudera Temple is such a strong attraction in Kyoto. It has a large main hall, pagoda, a shrine, the waterfall, great views into downtown Kyoto, views into the cherry and maple trees, and views into the mountains. It has cultural significance and is visually stunning in a number of ways, making it an easy pick for a must-do in Kyoto.

Also in terms of “variety,” one of the things I like best about Kiyomizudera Temple is actually the walk there. Kyoto is renowned for Philosopher’s Path, the walkway on which Nishida Kitaro (don’t feel bad, I didn’t know who this was either), a Japanese philosopher, used to mediate. The path is a beautiful, intimate stroll that is scattered with temples and other sites, which is why it remains popular today.

Well, as beautiful as that walk is, I think the “path” we make after ending Philosopher’s Path at Nanzenji (where Philosopher’s Path ends) is also very good. I’m going to call it Philosopherz Path 2: Tha Remix, and hope schoolchildren once learn about the contemplative crazy philosopher photographer Tom Bricker and this path someday.

Kidding, of course, as this path is already known, it’s just not promoted as a top “walk” in Kyoto. This is probably because the first section of the path that connects Nanzen-ji Temple to Maruyama Park is just through a plain section of Downtown Kyoto, but everything after that through the park and Higashiyama District is excellent. Some of the prettiest machiya townhouses in Kyoto can be found along these narrow paths.

Basically, once you leave Nanzenji, you head past Shorenin Temple and Chionin Temple before passing through Maruyama Park and entering the Higashiyama District. As you’re walking through this area, you suddenly see Yasaka Pagoda towering above the little shops and houses. Continuing further, you pass Kodaiji Temple before arriving at Kiyomizudera Temple.

It’s a good thing this walk is so lovely, because Kiyomizudera is not all that convenient to any train or subway stations in Kyoto. The nearest option is Kiyomizu-Gojo Station along the Keihan Railway Line, and that’s about a 20 minute walk. Fortunately, most of that walk is through the Higashiyama District, so it’s not too bad. The alternative is taking the bus from Kyoto Station, but that’s a miserably crowded experience, and the lines for the Kiyomizudera buses are often really long.

Even though it’s not part of the temple itself at all, this is a big part of why I think Kiyomizudera Temple is a must-do. That approach is just second to none, and offers a bit of variety and a beautiful historic district, before arriving at the final destination.

Note that once you get up to the steps of Kiyomizudera, you can see a decent area of the temple before entering the paid area that (more or less) begins with the main hall.

Now, we highly recommend paying to enter, but this is worth mentioning because you could return a second time for sunset or sunrise if you’re really into photography and shoot a decent amount without going “inside” the temple.

As for the paid area of Kiyomizudera Temple, there’s a lot to see. From the statue of the eleven faced, thousand armed Kannon in the main hall to Jishu Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking, to Otowa Waterfall to the three-storied Koyasu Pagoda to another pagoda amongst the trees on the far side of the grounds, there’s a lot to see here.

You can read about each of these structures here on the Temple’s official website. I’m more focused on giving tips for visiting as opposed to giving you the full history (which you’ll learn about at the temple, anyway).

My big tip for visiting would be to go for sunrise, sunset, or night. Which you choose depends upon the season. The temple opens at 6 am and closes at 6 pm daily, so if sunrise is before 6 am or sunset is after 6 pm, seeing these won’t always be possible.

As for night, it’s only open at night (6:30 pm to 9:30 pm) from mid-March to mid-April for the spring bloom, and mid-November to early-December for the fall colors, and is specially illuminated during these times.

Some days of the year, Kiyomizudera Temple is open for sunset. This is my pick for the best time to go if you want stunning photos, due to the orientation of the Temple’s key structures. The downside to a sunset visit is that it definitely will be more crowded than sunrise or early morning, but most visitors have left by this time of day, so it isn’t nearly as busy as the middle of the day.

If you are more concerned about crowds than photos, you might try visiting Kiyomizudera Temple early in the morning, as it is one of the more popular spots in Kyoto. If you can get here before 8 a.m., you will avoid the worst of the tour groups, as well as the congestion in the Higashiyama District, which gets pretty bad.

Moreover, if you do opt to take the bus to Kizomizudera, those early morning ones are by far the best option. Once the morning rush hits, you’re looking at very cramped buses that are standing room only. Coming from Kyoto Station, the line for these buses is often really long, too. Not a fun way to start your day.

Kiyomizudera features prominently in our 1-Day Eastern Kyoto Itinerary and our 2-Day Kyoto Highlights Itinerary, each of which offer strategy for visiting it for sunrise or sunset. If you’re trying to map out a touring plan that avoids crowds and efficiently visits some of Kyoto’s best spots, consult those.

My other big recommendation is to visit a variety of temples in Kyoto. That’s sort of Kyoto’s “thing” so it’s likely you’ll visit several during your stay, but what I mean by that is that you should visit well-known/popular temples like Kiyomizudera, but also under-the-radar ones.

As cool as Kiyomizudera is, it’s a poor representation of the true spirituality of Kyoto’s temples. It’s crowded, the area around it is heavily commercialized, and not conducive to introspection. Again, unless you arrive before 8 a.m.

I’m not sure if this is a controversial thing to say, but I think regardless of your religious beliefs, at the best temples and shrines in Japan, you can have spiritual experiences. For me, a spiritual experience is different from a religious one in that it is internal to oneself and can mean different things to different people. It’s one of those things you can’t really articulate, but you know it when you feel it.

Overall, Kiyomizudera Temple has so much going on and so much variety as compared to other temples in Kyoto, Japan that it makes my list of highly recommended things to do. I’ve found that many of the other temples in Kyoto can sort of blur together, which is not really a knock on any of them individually as they are all stunning. Kiyomizudera Temple is different from the norm. The approach is a beautiful walk, and the grounds of the temple are filled with things and views you won’t find elsewhere. It does have some weaknesses, but these are far overshadowed by its beauty and unique qualities it brings to the table.

If you’re planning a trip to the Japan that includes Kyoto, we recommend starting by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto, Japan to plan all aspects of our vacation. You should also check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other places to visit! 

Your Thoughts

Have you visited Kiyomizudera Temple? Would you recommend it to a first-timer visiting Japan? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Does visiting this temple interest you? Share any other questions or thoughts you have in the comments!

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21 replies
  1. JohnB
    JohnB says:

    The UNESCO treaty governing heritage sites wasn’t signed until 1975. The first list was until 1978. Where did this 1945 date come from?

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Thanks for bringing that to my attention–it was a typo! I had 1944 (not ’45) and it should’ve been 1994. I’ve fixed it. Can’t believe I had that wrong for so long!

  2. Scott E
    Scott E says:

    The walk up from either the bus stop or midway from the relatively new “philosopher’s” walk is actually 30-50% of the fun in visiting Kiyomizu. There are tons of eateries, souvenir shops and traditional artisan good stores, as well as Japanese cake making machines to watch which will absorb your attention. The “new” walk from Yasaka used to be very plain and run down with very few shops and even 2-3 ugly post modern building appearances. You can appreciate that over the years, with more and more tourist money flowing in, the actual street surface and the old places were refurbished and enhanced to recreate a quintessential Japanese movie land appearance. There are several towns and neighborhoods in Japan that have intentionally made this metamorphis: Takayama, Shirakawa and Kawagoe (Tokyo) come to mind. They are all a pleasure to visit. The cemetary on the right is a serene way to descend.

  3. Mel
    Mel says:

    Thanks for sharing so much of Kyoto, I think I have read all your articles. Lovely photos once again. Can you please tell me where you took the shot of the top tier of Koyasu Pagoda visible over the surrounding trees. Thanks

  4. dianne palogan
    dianne palogan says:

    Hi! We’re planning to go to Kyoto this Autumn, I would like to ask, which do you prefer to visit Kiyomizu dera, at day or at night time? We’re considering to visit the Temple during its night illumination but may I ask if Zuigudo Hall is open at night? and if we can drink water from Otawa waterfall at night? Your response is highly appreciated. Thank you.

  5. Joan S
    Joan S says:

    We visited Kyoto in early October, and I really wish we would have visited Kiyomizu-dera later in the day as you suggest. We got there first thing in the morning, and it was still stunning, but I imagine it really shines at sunset.

  6. Danica Yong
    Danica Yong says:

    Hi I am going to Kyoto during this December, would you recommend me to go during the morning or in the afternoon especially its during winter? Thanks again !!1

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Either first thing in the morning, or towards the end of the day, right before it closes. Given its location, I think it slots into an itinerary well at either the beginning or end of the day.

  7. Vlad B
    Vlad B says:

    Great post. Kyoto is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I’ve been twice so far. You’re absolutely right, the approach to Kiyomizudera via Yasaka pagoda and the narrow streets of Higashiyama is fantastic and is a must-do, especially in the evening. Even during cherry blossom season there were not that many people at sunset (mostly photographers :)!).
    Speaking of spiritual experiences, I would recommend doing a Zen meditation session in English at one of the Myoshin-ji subtemples.
    You can start your day there, and finish it at Ryoan-ji

  8. Marnie
    Marnie says:

    very nice shots. amazing view. by the way how are you able to take the sunrise shot for the Kiyomizudera Temple. that side is the exit side? I am going there , I want to see a kyoto sunrise . hope you could advise me, thanks 🙂

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      The photos in this post are of sunset. The temple opens at 6 am, so whether you can shoot sunrise from here depends upon the time of year you go, and when sunrise occurs. Good luck!

    • Winnie
      Winnie says:

      Hi, thanks for the wonderful post. The sunset is really beautiful. I will be in Kyoto in April and the sunrise time is 5.30. Any idea if the sunrise can be seen just outside of Kiyomizudera or do I have to be inside the temple to be able to see the sunrise?

  9. Matt in So Cal
    Matt in So Cal says:

    Terrific shots. Personally I prefer Kiyomizudera slightly to Fushimi Inari for the Higashiyama streets that lead up to the temple. To put it in theme park terms the Higashiyama streets act like the preshow to the attraction. That being said both are terrific places and Fushimi has the edge in being able to have escape crowds and have a more spiritual experience.

    We spent one of our days much like you described. We began the at the Silver Pavilion, walked the philosophers path visiting various temples and shrines as we went, headed up through Higashiyama to Kiyomizudera. We spent the evening in Gion before returning to the hotel. All in all a wonderful day. Kyoto is an amazing city and anyone going to Japan must try and fit it into their itinerary.

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Very well put with the theme park comparison. I really like both, and I think Kiyomizudera offered the greater variety, but Fushimi Inari seems more authentic and tranquil (at present), which made me appreciate it more. I also really like the fact that it’s open 24 hours a day, as that means it can be fit into a day at an off hour after everything else closes (or before it opens).

      I’ve heard from many people who are overwhelmed by Kyoto and end up doing a guided tour because of that, but you described a perfect day in Kyoto that is very easy to accomplish–and entirely on foot.

  10. Patricia
    Patricia says:

    Tom, thanks so much for all the work you put into these posts. Clearly Kyoto is a fascinating city and the sad truth is that many of us will never get there. I appreciate your bringing its beauty to us with your stunning photos and detailed descriptions.

    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      Yeah, the sad reality is that each of us, even those who are well-traveled, will only see a very small portion of all the beauty the world has to offer. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to be able to share some of that beauty with others!

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