Seiryu-e – a Sophisticated Blue Dragon Festival at Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto



Seiryu-e is a ceremony that you cannot miss when you are in Kyoto. Kyoto used to be called Heian-kyo as the capital of old Japan. Its design resembles Chang’an, the official capital of the Tang Dynasty of China. According to the Chinese astrology, four mythical guardians represented four directions. The Vermillion Bird – “Suzaku” represents South, the Black Turtle – “Gembu” represents North, the White Tiger – “Byakko” represents West, and the Azure Dragon – “Seiryu” represents East. Each creature was thought to keep out the evil spirits coming from four directions. Kyoto became the capital because its site was an area that is perfect for the principles of “Shijinso-o” or Four Deities Suitability according to Chinese Feng Shui and relating to Chinese astrology.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple is among UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. It stands on the highest hillside in the eastern part of Kyoto, as if it stood to protect against evil spirits as the eastern guardian.

Things to Know Before Your Departure

Legend of Pure Water

Kiyomizu kanji look as follows: “清水”. Literally translating to “pure water” in English. At the bottom of the temple’s main hall, you will find water flows from the three stone water conduits. Its name is Otowa-no-taki Waterfall. It is said to have been the clearness of these water flows that Kiyomizu-dera Temple took its name from. For many centuries people used to call the waters of these flows “golden water” or “life-prolonging water”. They believed the waters to purify you both physically and mentally. I would say that Kiyomizu-dera is the temple of water, which is also the symbol of the Azure Dragon or Seiryu.

Legend of the Blue Dragon

According to another legend, the Blue Dragon is the incarnation of “Senju kannon” – thousand-armed deity. It came to drink from the Otowa Waterfall every night. And also, there is a guardian god – “Yasha-jin”, enshrined in a small shrine on the south side of the “Oku-no-in” hall. The Otowa Waterfall is under this hall. People believe that Yasha-jin is keeping guard over Oku-no-in, the place of worshipping the Blue Dragon.

Festival Breakdown

About Seiryu-e

Kiyomizu-dera Temple Seiryu-e is not less interesting and exciting than many other traditional festivals in Kyoto. This festival started in 2000, when the “Senju kannon”, a thousand-armed Goddess of Mercy, saw public for the first time in 33 years. It features the “Seiryu” Blue Dragon, one of the four divine creatures that guard Kyoto’s borders against the arrival of misfortunes and disasters. Seiryu protects the eastern border of Kyoto, and Kiyomizu-dera Temple, nestling on the hillside of Higashiyama, is a “Watchtower” on the east side.

Blue Dragon Figure

The festival starts when a religious ritual – “hakkudokusui” starts. It gives visitors the eight kinds of merit in Buddhism. This ceremony is conducted by a monk wearing a gilded mask as the “yasha-jin” deity, followed by an exciting parade led by the 18-meter Blue Dragon figure: the main attraction of the festival. Buddhist monks and people from local shopping street groups come together and make an enthusiastic procession featuring a wide variety of performers. They are in costumes that look like the one in the popular Japanese manga series – Kingdom. Besides. the action takes place in the Warring States period in ancient China of the 3rd century BC.

Incidentally, the design of the Blue Dragon figure and other costumes at the festival were created by Emi Wada, an Academy Award-winning costume designer for dramas, movies, and ballets. She designed the large, sutra-covered Blue Dragon, which captures viewers’ attention during the parade. But it is Kyoto’s craftspeople who crystallized her designs.

Brief Traveling Route of the Parade

Okuno-in Hall

The starting place (and destination) is Okuno-in hall. It stands above the Otowa Waterfall and boasts its spacious stage. Besides, workers used a unique method of construction – “kake-zukuri”, using no nails to support the building just like the Main Hall.

Otowa Waterfall

The name of Kiyomizu-dera Temple originated from this place. There are three flows of water you can drink from. People believe that each stream has different “magic”: success, romance, and longevity. Choose one stream and drink one cup or two from it, so that your wish can become true. However, don’t try all of the three because doing so means the act of greediness and no wish will become true.

Kyo-do (Kaizan-do)

In the middle of the Heian period (794-1184), this red building used to be a place for academic monks to gather from all over the country. Also, two other red buildings, West Gate and Three-story Pagoda, are on the route of the parade.

Nio-mon Gate

The main entrance of the temple. It measures 10 meters wide, 5 meters long and 14 meters high. What a magnificent view indeed!

Todoroki-mon Gate (or Todoroki Bridge)

Designated as an Important Cultural Property, Todoroki-mon Gate is a building in the hip-and-gable roof style. You can head to the famous Main Hall through this gate. On the way, you will notice a wash basin for visitors to rinse their hands before going further. The basin features the Blue Dragon elaborately carved out of stone, supported by cobble-sized stones that look like owls.

Details and Access

• Dates:
-March 14th,15th
-April 3rd
-September 14th, 15th
Same dates annually
• Place: Kiyomizu-dera Temple
• Address: 294 Tatsumicho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto
• Time (for parading): 2:00p.m-3:30p.m.
• Admission:
General Admission: ¥400
Junior High School, Primary School: ¥200
• Official website:
• Access (railroad):
-A 25-minute walk from Kiyomizu Gojo Station on the Keihan Line
• Access (bus):
– A 10-minute walk from Kiyomizu-michi on the City Bus route 207 for Tofukuji/Kujo-shako or the Keihan Bus route 83, 85, 87 or 88. (These bus services start from Gion Shijo Station on the Keihan Line.)

Closing Remarks

Kiyomizu-dera Temple is one of the most famous and celebrated places in Japan as well as in Kyoto. It attracts about 10 million tourists all year round. What makes the temple attractive in particular is illumination events in both spring and fall. Together with Yasaka Shrine and other temples in the Higashiyama district, Kiyomizu-dera illuminates its beautiful buildings in the evening during the annual Hanatoro event in mid-March. It also holds another illumination event during the autumn leaf season in the second half of November. For more details, please see the following articles:
Hanatoro Festival: mysterious-light-at-the-hanatouro-festival
Kiyomizu-dera Autumn Light-up:

If you would like to see this sophisticated festival and explore Kyoto with a friendly local guide, please check the banner below!

All images are courtesy of Zi jing 

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Have two kids. Teach English at an “eikaiwa” school more than a decade Love cake.

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