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Day 2 of our 3-day Kyoto trip was absolutely perfect. After visiting the stunning Kinkakuji golden pavilion, we wrapped up the day with an unforgettable evening of Kaiseki Kyoto meal. Day 3 was supposed to rain most of the day. So we decided to visit Kiyomizudera Temple in Higashiyama district early in the morning before the rain hit and the crowd gathered.
How to get to Kiyomizudera Temple in Higashiyama district
Kiyomizudera Temple is located in southern Higashiyama district. It can be reached from Kyoto Station in about 15 minutes by bus #100 or #206 (cost 230 yen). Get off at Gojo-zaka or Kiyomizu-michi bus stop, from where it is a ten minute uphill walk to the temple. Alternatively, you can take the Keihan Railway Karasuma Line from Kyoto Station to Kiyomizu-Gojo Staion. From there it is about 20 minutes to walk to Kiyomizudera Temple. But taxi might be the fastest way to get here.
One of the most celebrated temple in Japan, Kiyomizudera is best known for its wooden stage that juts out from its main hall, 13 meters above the hillside below. The main hall is currently covered up to the renovation of its roof, apparently through March 2020.
Kiyomizudera, in Japanese, literally means “Pure Water Temple”. Founded in 780 on the site of the Otowa Waterfall in the wooded hills, it got its name from the fall’s pure water. The existing buildings were constructed in 1633. The temple was added to the list of UNESCO world heritage sites in 1994.
Higashiyama District outside Kiyomizudera Temple
I think the most fun part of visiting Kiyomizudera was the steep and busy Higashiyama district leading to the temple. With narrow streets, wooden buildings and traditional shops, this is one of the best places to experience the traditional old Kyoto. Many shops and restaurants have been around for centuries. Most cater to tourists with interesting stuff from from souvenirs to local specialties such as pottery, sweets and pickles. Business typically open around 9am to 10am, and close relatively early around 5pm to 6pm.
An hour is simply not enough
We spent about an hour walking through the streets of Higashiyama district and the grounds of Kiyomizudera Temple. The sky was turning darker, so we decided to leave before it poured and head to Otsuka in Arashiyama for our lunch reservation. But honestly, I could easily spend half a day or more, visiting temples and shrines in the area, and shops and cafes along the way. Yes the area is crowded and noisy, but somehow none of that matters. I felt as though I was taken back in time! I will definitely spend more time here on the next trip.
If you happen to be in Kyoto during mid-March, you must stay to experience the evening illuminations during the annual Hanatoro event. The streets of Higashiyama district are lined by thousands of lanterns. Temples, shrines and businesses in the area all have extended hours and special illuminations. Kiyomizudera also has special illuminations during the fall season in the second half of November.