A Japanese Adventure: Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺)

And so it began!
Our first group bus ride to a site of historical and cultural significance: The ‘Kiyomizu-dera’ or as it is known in english, “The Temple of Clear Water”.
We were accompanied by our kind, well-informed, and, importantly, English-speaking tour-guide, Hiroko-san.

Although the template is not that far from the Kyoto-Tokyu hotel, we encountered what Hiroko-san considered ‘unsual’ traffic. This was mainly due to the fact that the ‘Gion’ Festival (http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3942.html) was taking place and there were many tourists in the area.

We made use of the time lost in traffic, taking a few pictures of what we could see from the bus windows, listening to Hiroko-san introduce the area to us and also just experiencing what a work-day morning felt like in Kyoto.

We reached the temple, eager to explore its treasures… and thanks to our Sensei, the tourism authorities and other parties, that’s exactly what we did right at the onset! Our group was escorted to an area which is not generally open to the public.

Sadly, our group has no photos to share from this “inner sanctum” since photos/videos were not allowed. I shall try to describe it with mere words but I shall never be able to do it justice:

After taking off our shoes at the entrance and switching to slippers (if that is the correct english equivalent), we entered what could only be described as an indoor balcony which went along the walls of a square room. As we stood along this balcony/walkway we could look both down into the center of the room, where far below us were the outlines of the massive footprints of the Buddha, and we could look up at the ceiling which was quite high up. There was no statue, but the walls were lined from top to bottom with grey, square tiles with carvings of different versions of Buddha. Far down below us, near the toes of the footprints, was a red book which, if I’m not mistaken, listed the names of all those who had donated to the temple. We were told that typically this entire area was completely silent, except for when sermons were held. However, at the moment, a light and soothing tune played, in perfect harmony with the atmosphere; still and sacred.

As I stood there, our group asking questions and patiently waiting for translated answers, I felt at peace. There was an air of simplicity with no exquisite gaudy gold decorations. It was a place where I felt someone from any religion could come and pray. There was beauty in that silence… perhaps felt more keenly, as outside this sanctum, the air was thick with the laughter, cries and camera snaps of bustling tourists.. a different sort of enjoyment.

These pictures are from when we entered the area:

After having experienced the hidden and silent beauty of the temple we made our way to the ‘Main Hall’ which is has been designated as a ‘National Treasure’ and which was registered on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto in 1994. (http://www.kiyomizudera.or.jp/lang/01.html).

It truly is a national treasure, one which takes your breath away, particularly from a distance. It is difficult not to lose yourself in the moment, as you admire not only the beauty but the architectural significance of the Main Hall which “was built using a special method; huge 12-meter high keyaki (Japanese Zelkova) pillars were assembled without using a single nail” !!

This pictures are but a shadow of its brilliance (some are taken from the bottom as we made our way down):

After getting our fill of the breathtaking views from the Main Hall, we made our way down to the ‘Otowa Waterfall’. The water flow is divided into 3 streams, each said to have a magical benefit. “From the drinker’s viewpoint, the one to the left is good for wisdom, the middle one for longevity and the one to the right is helpful for good matchmaking.” (http://en.japantravel.com/view/otowa-waterfall). I think I ended up going for the right, mistaking it for wisdom… but hey, I’d be happy with any of them.. 🙂 It’s important to note though that as the story goes, drinking from one stream will grant you that specific blessing, but drinking from all three is an act of greed… so pick the one you feel you need most and just stick to that one. 🙂

And with my wisdom (or luck in love) bolstered, I made my way back, with the group, past the stage, the tourists and exotic vending machines…

Our next stop was a very special, traditional Japanese lunch, vegetarian and based on the dietary habits of monks in training… yes, we were excited!

Stay tuned, that exotic, 13 course, lunch shall be covered in the next post! 🙂

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