Summer melting in Kyoto: English club tour of Kiyomizu Temple

The gate leading into Kiyomizu temple.

I learned one of my most relevant Japanese phrases the other day: “夏ばて” (natsu bate), it means “summer melting.” This pretty accurately describes my most common state of being in recent times. With the temperature set at a solid 35 degrees, my Canadian heat tolerance is far past its limits. It was under these conditions on a 35+ day that I went on a day trip to Kyoto with my English club.

The students spent weeks preparing an English tour of one of Kyoto’s most famous places, Kiyomizu Temple. Then, they gave me a tour! The truth is, I’ve been to Kiyomizu temple once before, when two Japanese friends toured my husband and I around Kyoto. But as my students had their hearts set on giving me a tour of this particular temple, I couldn’t bear to tell them the truth, and thankfully they didn’t ask. In any case, it was a much better way to spend the workday than melting away in my office, and I learned some interesting stuff from them! Unfortunately, because I’m not allowed to put pictures of students on the internet, that rules out most of my awesome pictures, but here are a few student-free photos, and some tidbits I learned from their tour:

Three-storied pagoda on the way into the temple area.

This is the main hall of Kiyomizu Temple, as viewed from the trail.

One of the interesting things I learned from my students’ tour is that, back in the day, people used to jump off the balcony from Kiyomizu Temple, a good 13 metres up, in order to have their wishes granted. Basically, if you survive the fall, your wish will come true. Apparently, 85 percent of people survived. Whether or not their wishes came true is unconfirmed… but the practice is now forbidden. Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “take the plunge!”

Here’s a view from the bottom of what I like to call the “wishing wall” – that’s a pretty high and unforgiving jump! 

Asides from risking your life to jump 13 metres onto concrete, there are many other ways you can make “wishes” at Kiyomizu. By far my students’ favourite area was the “Jishu Shrine,” the shrine for lovers or lover-wannabees.

The entrance to the lover’s shrine area. My students (all but one are girls) made a beeline for this place.

The “love stone” walk: as the sign describes, you have to walk from one stone to the other (about 6 metres) with your eyes closed, and your wish for love will come true.

Here’s the start point…

…and here’s the ending point, with the start point off in the background. I convinced one of my students to try it, it was quite entertaining to watch!

Also in the lover’s area, was this pale of water that “dissolves” your worries away: you write your worries (presumably love-related) on a piece of paper, and put the paper in the bucket. As the paper dissolves, so do your love-related woes. Unfortunately for one of my students, when she put her paper in, it didn’t dissolve, even after waiting for awhile! You can see hers just floating on top of the water.

Moving on from the lover’s shrine, these cards are commonly seen at most temples. You pay for a card, and write your prayer/wish on it, and it hangs in the temple area.

This is the “Otowa waterfall,” and Kiyomizu’s namesake, as kiyomizu means “pure water.” Here you can drink from one of three pure water streams to wish for luck in one of three things: wisdom, longevity, and good matches. Or success in business, long life and good appearance. I’ve had it explained to me a couple of different ways, not sure which is the right one!

Here is another way to get good luck in a specific area: you can buy one of these cards for 500 yen. Two of my favourites were “for passing examination”…

…and “safety travel.” 500 yen… if only it were that easy!

Asides from all the “good luck” stations, another interesting feature of Kiyomizu was the Jizo babies: these are stone baby statues, often covered by red clothing, that represent the souls of lost unborn children – whether miscarried or aborted. Parents who have lost their children before birth can come here and choose a Jizo that they think looks like their child, and pray or pay their respects.

The Jizo (stone baby) shrine.

After Kiyomizu, we completed our trip by wandering the nearby streets. We came upon a girl dressed as “Maiko,” like a Geisha in appearance only. The students were so enthralled the poor Maiko girl had to pose with everyone, including me, and I’m not sure if the expression on her face is her attempt at Geisha-like serenity, or complete displeasure at the situation she found herself in: probably a bit of both.

Maiko on the streets near Kiyomizu: my students thought she was beautiful, personally I thought her face looked rather creepy.

Finally, we ducked into a tea shop to recover from the summer melting over some kinako (roasted soy beans) shaved ice. There is a specific name for this particular kinako/shaved ice/ice cream/mochi combination which I cannot remember, sorry.

Kinako shaved ice dessert. Note how large the bowl is in relation to the water glass. It was also about three times the height of said glass. Epic.

After that, we strolled around a bit more, and then headed home. All things considered, possibly the best “workday” I’ve had in Japan so far! If only field trips like this could happen more often, summer melting wouldn’t seem half as bad.


3 thoughts on “Summer melting in Kyoto: English club tour of Kiyomizu Temple

  1. Thanks for this blog.
    Great pictures!
    What an experience for you both.
    The Tokyo Tribe is ‘leaving on a jet plane’ in about one half hour after 12 night stay.
    Take care.
    Love CAM

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