Temples of Daring and Love

Perched high on the steep side of a mountain in Eastern Kyoto are the temples of KIYOMIZU DERA, the daring can take a 13 meter plunge, and get all their wishes to come true.

temple (photo credit: Menahem Fogel)
(photo credit: Menahem Fogel)

The best panorama of Kyoto is available from Kiyomizu Dera, a complex of Buddhist temples in the eastern part of the city. From here you can see the entire Kyoto basin, and how this beautiful city is protected and encompassed by three mountain ranges.

Theres a steep climb up a tourist/trinket shop lined street to this very impressive complex. Some of them are the Japanese version of the dollar store and they do a pretty trade from the many people who come here. Thats the thing about tourism in this country. The vast majority of it is internal. Kyoto, for example, received some 45 million tourists per year. All of Japan receives around 10 million foreign tourists per year. I guess this is one of the reasons that theres not a whole lot of foreign language signs here. But, back to the Temple.

The Kiyomizu temple itself is perched high on the steep side of a mountain in Eastern Kyoto. The entire structure is supported by a wondrously woven set of beams that all fit together without the use of even a single nail. Amazing!

The English expression “to take the plunge” has a Japanese equivalent. Here, they say “to jump off the stage at Kiyomizu.” Well, it is, in fact, quite literal. Taking the plunge means more or less to accept a dare or to take a bold, dramatic step forward. The stage at Kiyomizu is 13m high, and many people have indeed taken the plunge off it. During the Edo period of Japan’s history, it was said that if one survived the jump, one’s wishes would come true. Many did jump. Most, but not all, survived.

The trouble with jumping off the stage at Kiyomizu is that you’re likely to miss the next feature of this interesting complex of temples, Jishu-ji, the temple of love and “good matches.” This temple has two stones in its courtyard. Called “love-stones”, it is said that if one can walk the 18m between the stones unaided, one’s wishes for a worthy spouse will come true. If you need assistance in completing the distance, the wish will come true – but you’ll need some help. Thus, depending on your point of view, this temple could be a shadchan’s dream - or nightmare.

Kiyomizu translates as “pure water.” The name is drawn from the nearby Otowa waterfall, where the water is divided into three channels that drop into a pond. According to tradition, if you drink from the water of Otowa-san, you’ll be blessed with longevity, wisdom and health.

Not being one to miss a dare – but also not being one to jump off a 13m high veranda – I stepped up to the falling water. Here I discovered metal cups with meter long handles with which I could scoop up and sip this blessed water. In order to keep everything hygienic (after all, this is Japan), the cups are stored inside an ultraviolet sterilizer. I took a sip from each of the three falls of water but I didn’t feel any different.  One of my travelers suggested that now that I was promised longevity, maybe I should take the plunge anyway. “No way,” I replied.

See, I’m smarter already!