Dissolving paper dolls and love stones

How funny that I keep writing about and showing you tons of picture of Hokkaidō but there’s not even a single picture of Kyōto on my blog. While scrolling through the pictures I took back on my trip to Japan three years ago, I noticed so many wonderful gardens, temples, old streets and food that it made me fall in love with Kyōto all over again. First up is the Kiyomizudera meaning temple of pure water.

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The most convenient way to discover Kyōto is by bicycle which you can easily rent in different shops around the station. To wind through the crowds while comfortably sitting on a bike is seriously one of the best memories I have of Kyōto. As we hadn’t seen the Kiyomizudera the first time we came to Kyōto, we decided it was about time to visit this famous temple and the surrounding area. The weather was quite perfect since it wasn’t too warm nor cold but late October is definitely too early to get a view of the temple surrounded by vibrant autumn foliage.

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Daikokuten – the god of wealth and hearth is usually depicted with a golden mallet of fortune, here however he’s holding a sphere

As all of the main attractions in Kyōto they tend to be overcrowded with tourists and high school students especially during the holidays. The park is vast though and the crowd eventually loosens up a bit when not walking on the main streets. The temple grounds are spread out on a hill in Higashiyama ward, eastern Kyōto, and surrounded by a forest where there is a variety of little shrines and smaller temples to discover. The main destination for most visitors is the actual Kiyomizudera which sits on top of the hill and was build without a single nail back in the Edo period. The wooden stage in front of the hondō (main hall) offers an amazing view over Kyōto and the surrounding hills.

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The Jishu shrine dedicated to Ōkuninushi, the kami of matchmaking and harmony is located above the main hall of the Kiyomizudera and attracts many couples, especially young girls praying for luck in love. Two love stones which are also found there and set apart eighteen meters from one another, are supposed to make you get lucky in finding love if you can walk the distance with your eyes shut. Should someone help you, by telling directions or guiding, then you will find love but only through the help of another and if you can’t reach the stone at all it will be long before your love is realized . Simple, eh?

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Ema are small wooden plaques on which to write prayers or wishes that the kami may grant

Although formally separated by the government in the Meiji era it’s quite common in Japan to find Shintō shrines and Buddhist temples in the same place. It is difficult for me to tell which custom and practices come from Shintō beliefs and which ones from Buddhism and maybe they’re not even clearly classified but it sure is a fascinating world to discover especially if you like Japanese history or folklore. There’s shrines for almost anything, whether it be worshiping breasts or cats, you’ll probably find the right shrine for it somewhere. At the Kiyomizudera you’re chances of getting your wish granted by one of the many kami and gods are pretty good. If you drink from the Otowaki, a Waterfall which is located at the base of Kiyomizudera’s main hall and is divided into three separate streams, it is supposed to bring you success, love or longevity depending on which stream you choose to drink from. Drinking from all three of them though is considered greedy.

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Something I had never seen before were the Hitogatabarai, paper sheets in the shape of a simple doll that were floating in a barrel filled with water. Although it resembles the practice of pressing a sheet of paper against a part of your body that needs to heal and burning it to get rid of the pain or problems it causes, with the Hitogatabarai the problems are written down on the paper doll and your worries will vanish as the paper dissolves in water.
I hope you will have the chance to visit Kiyomizudera as it’s one of the most famous temple sites of Japan and strolling around the impressive wooden structures while enjoying the view and lively atmosphere is really fun. There’s also many explanatory signs in English in case you haven’t a Japanese friend who can guide you through the different activities. Omikuji (sacred lots) however, are difficult to understand even for Japanese people sometimes so don’t take it too seriously!

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