Kiyomizu-dera and it neighborhood
- about our obsession with benefits in this world

Kiyomizu-dera with its stage and pagoda
Otowa waterfall
Otowa waterfall

Kiyomizu-dera (Kiyomizu Temple) is maybe the best place to start sightseeing in Kyoto. It is located on the foot of Higashi-yama (Eastern Mountains) and we have a good panorama view of Kyoto from its famous stage.

If you see the large number of visitors to Kiyomizu-dera, it may be very difficult for you to believe the Japanese people who say that they are NOT religious. Japanese people in general understand that true religion is somewhat highly serious and spiritual thing and concerns the salvation after death. They also believe that believers in a religion should devote themselves to belief and regularly undertake religious practice in a systematic manner. Christianity and Islam fulfill these requirements, but not what they are doing.

It is true that the vast majority of the Japanese people often visit shrines and temples and pray for their happiness in this world. Coming from the Eastern region of Japan, I feel such tendency especially strong in the Kansai Area (Kyoto and Osaka and their neighborhood region). It is often said that "Once dead no flowers bloom and no fruits are born" is a shared recognition of the people in Kansai, in particular in Osaka. The Osaka people were notorious as weak soldiers, because they did not want to lose their lives; "Once dead, that's it!"

The head of Jizo (left) should be rotated (right) if a wish is to be fulfilled.

Therefore, in Kyoto we can find many evidences for their strong attachment to concrete benefits in this world, starting from health and wealth to success in entrance examination, employment and partner finding.

In front of the entrance gate of Kiyomizu-dera, there is a small temple Zenkoji-do for Jizo-bodhisattva. Jizo is very popular in Japan as a deity who protects children. However, the stone jizo statue is here very special. Prayers are allowed to turn its head on the body. It is advised to turn right or left according to the place of the targeted benefit. If he or she can rotate the head one time without impediment, his or her wish will be fulfilled. It is amazing how people came to the idea to turn the head of a bodhisattva! Benefit!

The shrine in the backyard of the temple is somewhat unique. Before the Meiji Period (1868-1912) it was a part of Kiyomizu-dera. However, according to the policy of the Imperial government, the shrine came to be independently managed. Jishu-jinja (Jishu shrine) has a long tradition and enshrines Ookuninushi-no-mikoto. According to the legend, Ookuninushi was the ruler of Japan before it was overtaken by the ancestors of the Emperors.

Entrance of Jishu-jinja

Matchmaking stone

Ookuninushi contributes much to the shrine's revenue as matchmaker. Rabbit from Inaba was saved by him when he was deprived of his white fur by sharks.

The poor Ookuninushi works now as matchmaker and is worshiped by young people, especially young girls as women are more superstitious than men. There are all kinds of facilities to pray for good matchmaking, though everything is chargeable except for this stone. It is paired with another stone and believed to fulfill the wishes of those who are eager to find a partner. The stone was said to be used in this place by Jomon people (1) maybe for religious purposes.

(1)"Jomon period" is the Neolithic period in Japan (12,000BC-400BC).

Otowa waterfall is also for the benefit of this world. Three channels of waterfall represent wisdom, health, and longevity. If you drink from one of the channels, your wish will be fulfilled, but you should not be too greedy to drink from all of them.

Temple for Sanmen-Daikoku


Only a few hundred meters distant from Kiyomizu-dera, you can find a small statue for more greedy people. A small figure of Sanmen-Daikoku is enshrined in a small hatch. Daikoku is one of Shichifukujin (seven gods of fortune). However, this Daikoku is special. It has three faces (2) and has in addition to the face of Daikoku the faces of Bishamon and Benzai, two other deities of Shichifukujin.

(2) "Sanmen" means three faces.

Daikoku is originally the Hindu god Shiva. Bishamon is also a strong Indian god of war. Benzaiten is, as I explained elsewhere, also originally an Indian god and in particular supportive in making wealth. If these three strong gods are integrated into one figure, it should have a super power. Therefore it was worshiped by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1537-1598). He might have thought that it is efficient to pray this god, because one time prayer is equivalent to three times prayer in elsewhere. Anyhow, he came up from a low rank samurai and succeeded in putting an end to the hundreds of years lasting civil war.

The ancient and medieval people were deadly interested in the world after death. In those times the hilly area in the south of Kiyomizu-dera was the graveyard of the inhabitants of Kyoto. Therefore, it was natural for the people at the time to believe that the passage to the hell could exist in the bordering area of Higashiyama.

Bell house
The well through which Ono-no-Takamura visited the realm of the dead can still be seen here on the right side.

The entrance of Rokudo-Chinnoji in twilight

They believed that Ono-no-Takamura (802-853)(3) went to and from the realm of the dead through the well in the garden of his palace and worked as an aid to Enma, the lord of death who judges whether a dead person should go to hell or heaven. We can see the well in the backyard of Rokudo-Chinnoji, but in usual days through a small window. It looks ominous in the twilight.

(3)Ono-no-Takamura was a high-ranking official and famous as poet. It is understood that such a view came to be widely accepted, because he was unhappy in his political life.

The bell in the bell house is believed to be heard also in the realm of the dead. You can pull the rope and ring the bell. It has a beautiful tone to make listeners believe that its sounds can in fact reach the realm of the dead.