Kiyomizudera Temple is one of Japan’s most famous attractions in the historic city of Kyoto. With a history of more than 1200 years and listed a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, you can say it is a MUST-VISIT when you are in Kyoto. So yeah, I visited it on my very first trip to Japan.
Clearly everyone thinks it is a must-visit, because Kiyomizudera is perpetually crowded. I can’t say it is my favourite spot in Japan honestly, because frankly the crowd puts me off. But I do not deny that it is a sight to behold, especially in spring (cherry blossom season) and autumn.
Because visiting Kiyomizudera during these two seasons is SO popular, they have special night viewing sessions when cherry blossoms and autumn foliage are in season.
The exact dates differ from year to year but as a rough indication, this year’s spring and autumn viewing dates are 12 March 2016 – 21 March 2016 and 12 November 2016 to 4 December 2016 respectively.
So when I was planning our Japan trip last December, I made sure I included a night visit to Kiyomizudera. Clearly I was not the only person with this on my agenda.
To begin with, Kyoto is always crowded with tourists. During autumn foliage season, you can expect the crowd to at least double. Being Kyoto’s top attraction, Kiyomizudera will be doubly the double crowded. If you’re a Mathematician like me, just think exponential growth. Throw in a limited-time-only special event and BOOMZ. You have the perfect recipe for mayhem.
But then again, it is Japan we are talking about. I suspect if this event was held in some other countries, it would probably have resulted in a stampede. But Japanese people are orderly and patient. So everyone made their way into the temple, body against body, with no pushing and shoving. Just a lot of sweat involved. And sometimes-going-missing boys who decide to squeeze through the legs of people in front.
So how do you survive a trip to Kiyomizudera’s special night visits, especially with kids involved?
#1 Ditch the stroller
Yeap, can’t stress this enough. Baby carriers are your best friends if you have babies / toddlers. There are steps to climb. There is simply NO SPACE for your stroller to move. So DO NOT bring a stroller.
#2 Go early
Event starts at 5.30pm? Be there at 5pm to start queuing for tickets.
#3 Find the secret side entrance
Lucky us, we went in from the side entrance with significantly less people. After we entered, we saw the insane crowd trying to get in from the main entrance and we were so glad we were not part of it.
#4 Don’t Drive
My heart was pounding at the thought of the 400 yen per 15 minutes parking we were going to have to pay while we were trapped in a human traffic jam, unable to move inside the temple. Eventually, we found an escape route, essentially skipping the temple, and exited because we didn’t want to chalk up a parking bill that could have bought us a nice sushi dinner.
#5 Just skip it
I can only say I regretted going to Kiyomizudera for this night visit. I should have just gone in the day time and got a spectacular view of the autumn foliage all the same. I would probably have came home with better photos. OKAY FINE, it’s just my lousy night-time photography.
But just saying.. I really didn’t think the special night visit was worth the fanfare. Especially not with kids. I may have endured the crowd and tried squeezing my way into the temple if I didn’t have the kids with me. But with the kids? No. I couldn’t help noticing that many of the people leaving via the escape route within 30 minutes of the opening time for the night visitation were families with young children like ours.
But no matter what I say.. Some of you will still want to go.. RIGHT?? After all it’s Kyoto! Kiyomizudera! Autumn foliage! Special Night Visit! So if you do go, just remember my first 4 points above and warn your kids that it’s going to get VERY CROWDED and they are to hold on to you at all times if they don’t want to get hopelessly lost in the crowd.
Information on Kiyomizudera Special Autumn Night Visit:
- 400yen adult
- 200 yen child (elementary and middle school age)
Getting There: From Kyoto station, take City Bus No. 206 or 100. Get off at Gojozaka stop. Kiyomizudera is a 10 minutes walk east from the bus stop.
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