Kiyomizu-dera © Richard Summers
Meaning 'pure water', Kiyomizu-dera is one of Japan's most celebrated temples. Founded in 780, it is associated with Nara Buddhism, the oldest sect in Japan. The temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of its main features for tourists is the lovely view afforded of the wooded hills of eastern Kyoto from its terrace. Below the terrace is the spring from which the temple got its name; visitors can sample the water, which is said to have healing powers. Nearby is an interesting three-storey pagoda, and the Otawa Falls. The approach to the temple, along Kiyomizu-michi or Gojo-zaka, is steep and narrow, the streets lined with stores specialising in local sweets, pottery, and the inevitable souvenirs. Behind the temple is the Shinto Jishu Shrine, dedicated to the god of love. There is lots to see and do in the temple complex, which tends to be bustling with visitors and worshippers, and provides a fascinating cultural and historical experience for foreigners. The gardens are beautiful and, like many in Japan, are at their best when the cherry blossoms bloom in spring or when the leaves are at their most radiant in autumn. It is especially lovely to stay until it is dark (when possible) to see the temple light up at night.