Pilgrims have climbed Higashiyama's cobblestone streets lined with tea shops and craft vendors to this gorgeous mountainside temple for centuries. In a forest on Kyoto's eastern flank, Kiyomizu-dera's tremendous gates and pagodas are marvels to behold. The main hall's huge veranda, jutting out over the valley, has become one of the city's quintessential images. Hundreds of timbers support the large deck and gracefully angular cypress-shingle roof. Finding the courage to set out on a daring new adventure is often likened to "taking a leap from the veranda of Kiyomizu."
The temple was founded in 780, but the buildings you see today date from 1633. Inside the towering gateway is a small shrine that is well worth exploring. Take off your shoes before descending the stairway for a metaphoric journey into the soul; in the dark passageway below the temple, quietly follow a chain of thick wooden beads to an ancient tablet carved with the Sanskrit rune for heart. (It's fine to touch the
tablet.) Past the main hall, the quirky Jishu Shrine is dedicated to Okuni Nushi-no-mikoto, a deity considered to be a powerful matchmaker. Many young people visit the shrine to seek help in finding their life partners. They try to walk between two stones placed 18 meters (59 feet) apart, with their eyes closed. It's said that love will materialize for anyone who can walk in a straight line between the two.
Farther down the path, the Sound of Feathers waterfall tumbles down in three perfect streams before a raised platform. You can catch some of its water by using one of the long-handled silver cups; drinking from the falls supposedly helps with health, longevity, and academic success. If you need more to fortify you, enjoy some noodle soup, hot tea, or cold beer from one of the old stalls below the trellised balcony. To get here, take Bus 100 or 206 to Gojo-zaka or Kiyomizu-michi, where a 10-minute uphill walk takes you to the temple.