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Kiyomizu-dera Temple in the New Era: Bringing Culture and Sincerity Together for an Era of Peace

People

Kiyomizu-dera Temple in the New Era: Bringing Culture and Sincerity Together for an Era of Peace

Content Partner

Japanese high-end experience booking platform WABUNKA.We offer exclusive experiences such as behind-the-scenes tours of manufacturing facilities and temples.

Content Partner

Japanese high-end experience booking platform WABUNKA.We offer exclusive experiences such as behind-the-scenes tours of manufacturing facilities and temples.

Interview with Reverend. Eigen Onishi, Sub Steward of Kiyomizu-dera Temple of the Kita-Hosso sect of Buddhism

In December, 2020, Kiyomizu-dera’s major restoration project that took about twelve years was completed. Since then, many visitors have been coming up the slope of Kiyomizu-zaka to see the restored temple and to enjoy the colorful landscapes of each season from its grand veranda, the Kiyomizu Stage.
 
“Together with the visitors, I want to make Kiyomizu-dera a temple that people can continue to cherish. I hope to meet people to whom I can convey the goodwill and sincerity accumulated here,” says Eigen Onishi, Sub Steward of Kiyomizu-dera, who currently guides a special tour into areas of the temple that are usually closed to the public. Rev. Onishi shared his thoughts and stories about his experiences and training that brought him to guide this tour.
 
 

The Holy Place of Kannon with a history of over 1200 years

Kiyomizu-dera was founded here in 778 A.D.  For many centuries, it has been a holy place where the general public would pay devotional visits to its principal image, the Eleven-headed Thousand-armed Kannon Bodhisattva commonly called “Kannon-sama” in Japanese. On the precincts that spread over130,000 square meters are more than thirty structures and monuments that include national treasures and many important cultural properties. The temple has also been registered on UNESCO World Heritage List as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto. Kiyomizu-dera underwent a restoration that took twelve years until December, 2020. This was a major project, and it has been called “the grand restoration of Heisei.” The completion marked a new beginning for the temple in the present age and for the future.
 
Kiyomizu’s veranda after the major restoration
The spring sunlight filters through clouds of cherry blossoms overhead, casting shadows on the ground. The roaring chorus of the cicadas in the lush green leaves signal summer. The sunset flares on the red and gold leaves in autumn. Silence blankets the snow-covered surroundings in winter. The seasons of Japan are reflected on Mt. Otowa where Kiyomizu-dera stands, adding different colors to the ancient city throughout the year. 1200 years since its founding, Kiyomizu-dera is now gaining more and more attention from people around the world as a symbolic temple of Japan, with the help of using Instagram and its website to reach out to young people and visitors from overseas.
A place to rest in the warm, spring sun after exploring the temple

A special tour into the gorgeous and mystical parts of Kiyomizu that are usually closed to the public

The special tour begins by entering Geihin-kan, a hall only for important guests. It then moves on to the interior of Tahō-kaku with the Bussokuseki (Buddha’s Footprints) and over four thousand carved images of the Four Buddhas of the Four Directions. The visitors then enjoy the view from Sai-mon (the West Gate) overlooking Kyoto city and Kiyomizu-zaka before entering Kiyomizu-dera Naijin (the area closer to the altar), which consecrates the standing image of the Eleven-headed Thousand-armed Kannon Bodhisattva. The visitors are then guided to Okuno-in, and the tour ends by spending some time at Tsuki no Niwa (Moon Garden) of Jōju-in, a peaceful garden that takes on a different appearance in each season. 
Kiyomizu-dera Naijin, a sanctuary usually closed to the public
“I have no intention whatsoever of preaching any doctrines during this special tour. I only wish to share with my guests some things that I have personally learned or realized. And if it could lift their spirits a little, or if it could quell an irritable mood that they were in, then that would be more than enough. So, I don’t have any kinds of guests to whom I wish to invite, but I want many kinds of people to come and think that it is worth visiting.”
 
Rather than defining how this tour can offer a valuable experience, Rev. Onishi says he wants to “allow each participant to set the value on their visit.” This seems congruent with Kiyomizu-dera’s openness to all people, regardless of their religion.
 
 
 
Participants listen to priest's teachings in a relaxed atmosphere surrounded by nature and clean air, away from the hustle and bustle of the city

A detour from a straight path to resolve inner conflict and gain focus

“There are four priests of my generation here, including myself. For the other three, it seems like their aspirations to become priests had been relatively natural from the beginning,” Rev. Onishi said. “I was less mature and wanted to do many other things, so I studied advertising at Kansai University, and I got an opportunity to study abroad after graduation.”
 
“Among the other students in my exchange program was a kyōgen actor who had decided to take a break from kyōgen for one year in order to pursue it for the rest of his life. Another student was a son of a chairman of a large corporation, and he launched a business on his own. Impressed by their autonomy to decide their career paths on their own I reflected on how I had been unable to become independent, contemplated on my inner conflicts to resolve them, and returned to the temple after undergoing Buddhist training.”
 
 
The small group of participants of the special tour can listen to sutras echoing in Kiyomizu-dera’s Naijin where visitors are usually not allowed to enter.
“No job is superior to another, and all jobs are the same in the big picture. ‘No job is boring; it is only the person there who is bored,’ I was often told. I believe this to be true, now that I have resolved to follow my path.”
 
Rev. Onishi is leading Kiyomizu-dera to the new era by making use of his experiences and what he learned during his student days. Perhaps this special tour was made possible because Rev. Onishi had experiences of the process of being lost and then finding his path of life through introspection.
 
“Though I don’t usually think so deeply about the past…” Rev. Onishi’s (smiling) face expressed his personality as he spoke.

Coming together and transmitting sincerity in hope for a better society

“Ultimately, I would like to converse with people who wish to make the world a better place but who are troubled because they feel powerless to do it by themselves. If we come together and pass on the goodwill and sincerity of such people to the next generation, perhaps their wishes will be realized ten or twenty years later by the people in that era. For participants, I don’t want to make the experience of the tour just end in an impression that they ‘heard a good talk’ or ‘had a good experience.’ But I would be happy if they could further convey their thoughts and feelings to people around them to join together in their hopes for the future.”
With his hands together, Rev. Onishi says he wants to cherish human encounters through destiny beyond anything deliberate.
Now that Kiyomizu-dera’s restoration has been completed, Rev. Onishi hopes that, together with visitors, he can lead the temple into the new era. Why not expose yourself to Kiyomizu’s culture and history and participate in this collective transmission of sincerity?

Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera

Located in Kyoto City, Kiyomizu-dera is the head, and only, temple of the Kitahossō sect of Buddhism. It is well-known for its veranda called the Stage of Kiyomizu. The temple’s sangō name is Otowa-san. Kiyomizu-dera is registered on UNESCO World Heritage List as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto and attracts many visitors each day.
 
Address: 294 Kiyomizu-Icchome, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto city
 

April 23, 2021

Special plan

A special tour guided by a priest into the World Heritage Site Kiyomizu-dera’s sacred precincts that are usually closed to the public.
 Please refer to WABUNKA’s website for prices and availability.
 
For more information(Japanese only)
 
 

 

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Japanese high-end experience booking platform WABUNKA.We offer exclusive experiences such as behind-the-scenes tours of manufacturing facilities and temples.