There are so many Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Kyoto, it can be overwhelming to narrow them down to a few “must-see” sites. Because we had limited time, two young kids and a stroller, it was not worth it to try to take a bus to one of the other, more popular temples. We stuck with sites we could reach using the subway system, and Kiyomizu was even on the same side of town as our Airbnb, so it worked out great! We fook the Keihan subway line to Kiyomizu-Gijo stop, and followed the signs towards the eastern mountains. The walk up to the temple was steep, but pleasant as souvenir, pottery, and kimono rental shops lined the narrow streets as we ascended.
Kiyomizu-dera temple was established in 778 A.D., and its name means “pure waters,” as it was established near a waterfall. The current buildings were built in the 1600s, after many fires and disasters over the centuries. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and was a great site for the whole family to enjoy together.
When narrowing down our priority list for Kyoto, websites kept touting Kiyomizu as “fun for kids.” I thought to myself, “How can this specific temple be more fun for kids than others?” Well, it was! There were several activities for the whole family to enjoy, and Landon, as always, enjoyed wandering around, digging in the dirt, and finding Buddha.
After climbing up the steep streets, the entry gate and outer buildings of the temple site came into view. There were stairs to reach the temple complex, but also an access road that winds around, so we took that with the stroller. The gate, pagoda, and outer buildings were all accessible via stairs, but there was a convenient paved path for stroller and handicapped access. This was one of the most stroller-friendly sites we visited in Kyoto! Since Landon was more interested in digging in the rocks and dirt than looking at the gate and other buildings, Austin and I took turns watching the kiddos in the shade and checking things out up the stairs. Sometimes, all the boy needs is some time to dig in the dirt to be happy!
This was my first Japanese Buddhist temple! I loved the bright orange colors and embellished architecture. It was certainly different than the other temples we have visited in China, Korea, and Indonesia.
Going around the side of the first part of the complex had its perks! We found this stone Buddha garden tucked off to the side of the complex. The ticket office was near the pagoda, so if pressed for time, the front buildings and gate are available to see for free!
Next, we made our way toward the main hall. Off to the side of the main hall was an open pavilion structure with bells attached to it. It seemed that each bell had specific prayer attached by a string. Landon loved the noise of the bells ringing in the wind, and was very curious about the papers hanging off the bells. He accidentally removed one paper, but we left it by the bell, and I was slightly encouraged to see that others had fallen off as well.
Next to the bells was another fun kid activity. There were heavy metal poles, and good luck was the prize for lifting the pole with one hand! With the “man” pole being over 90 kg, it did not budge for anyone, but there were several people who urged Austin to try because he looked so big and strong. He was able to lift it with both hands, but not with the one hand. Landon was enthralled with the whole idea of feats of strength and tried to help Austin lift the pole. There was a women’s pole too, that was not quite as heavy. I was able to easily lift it with two hands, but did not manage to lift it with one hand.
After exhausting our strength, it was time to pay a visit to the main shrine. With shoes off, we were free to wander around a bit. Landon and Austin went further in this very large main hall, while I stayed back with our stuff/stroller/Owen. What I did notice is that this temple was very dark compared to others I have visited. The ceiling was very high, and the building itself was huge, but there were no windows. It had a different vibe than other Buddhist temples we have visited, but it was very atmospheric to hear the worshipers bang on this metal drum gong (at left) to help get their prayers answered. Kannon, the goddess of mercy, is the primary figure worshiped at this temple.
The stage of the Great Hall, built in the 1600s juts out over the hillside and is supported by huge beams and other supports that were fitted together- no nails were used in construction! I find it incredible that it withstands the weight of thousands of visitors every day! The tourist route goes by another building (undergoing restoration work during our visit), before heading across the mountain to give us incredible views of Kyoto, the temple with its stage, and the brilliant orange pagoda.
From here, the path split and we chose to go up the hill before coming down, and found this cute, smaller pagoda on an adjoining hillside. There wasn’t much else to see there so we headed down to the actual waterfall that the temple was named after! The line to drink the water was incredibly long, so we appreciated it, took a picture of itl, and went on our way. Had we been visiting without kids, it would have been worth the wait to use the long-handled cup to catch some water and drink.
We enjoyed our visit to Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist temple. There was plenty of space for Landon to roam, dig in the dirt, and play, as well as activities to engage him in the historic and religious aspects of temple. Coupled with a stroll along the lanes leading up to the temple, it was a great way to spend a few hours and we would recommend this place to anyone with a few days in Kyoto.