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Temples of Kyoto: Kiyomizu-dera

Forget pilgrimage, meditation, and enlightenment. Kiyomizu-dera temple is just plain fun! First constructed in the 8th century, the present buildings are reconstructions from the 17th century. It's one of the most famous landmarks of Kyoto and can get crowded, as it was on my visit.

Set on a hill, the main hall hosts a huge veranda that offers good views and a couple of ropes attached to bells that visitors can ring. I managed to take a turn despite the hordes of children on school tours. Below the main hall is a waterfall where visitors drink the waters said to deliver health and long life.

The temple is really a complex of various halls and shrines. Climb some steps to a shrine above the main hall and you can try your luck at finding true love. If you can walk the 18 meters between two stones with your eyes shut, love will come. You can get someone to guide you but that also means you'll need someone to help you find your love. I shut my eyes and shuffled forward on my own, and missed the stone.

Left of the pagoda in front of the temple's main entrance is the Tainai-meguri where for 100 yen, you can descend symbolically into the womb of a female bodhisattva, or as the sign terms it, "motherly buddha." I paid my yen and went down the stairs into a blackness so complete I might as well have still been keeping my eyes shut. As a guide, I hung onto a railing of giant wooden prayer beads. The instructions had told me to separate from everything, so I surrendered to the dark and the prayer beads and the path that was not straight but seemed to spiral forever into claustrophobia. Then suddenly a light shone on a round granite stone carved presumably with the character for "motherly buddha," As instructed, I turned it once and made a wish. Happily the exit arrived soon after.

Although I approached the temple the back way, climbing a hill solidly studded in all directions with grave stones, the official entrance is known as Chawan-zaka (Teapot Lane), a steep street lined with shops selling snacks and souvenirs. To get there from the Kyoto Station, take bus 206 and get off at the Kiyomizu-michi stop. Then attack the hill.