Like goldfish crowding the water’s surface at feeding time, the photographers throng to the viewing platform and jostle for the best spot. Wave after wave presses in, greedy cameras aimed in the same direction, until the whole writhing mass threatens to break through the railing.

Why, though? The Internet is already saturated with iterations of the same photo taken from the same angle, every season, every time of day imaginable. The evening sun floating on the horizon has been captured. So, too, have the clouds. I suppose that everyone falls victim to the fallacy that the photo is more meaningful if we take it ourselves and to the fear that others will judge us if we don’t.

The girl in front of me was holding binoculars, though I would not notice them until she turned around. Where on both sides of her shutters snapped repeatedly, she could stare down into the trees, into the interlocking supports of the stage, at her leisure. Even as I waited impatiently for her to relinquish her spot, I envied her resolve to look without documenting.

When it was my turn to sidle up to the railing, I took my photographs, a few more drops in the ocean. But had I never seen the images online, would I have thought to take the shot?

Or would I have only concerned myself with what interested me more: the angle at which she held her binoculars, the way the light glanced off her hand?

Sunset, when the waning light silhouettes the distant mountains and infuses Kiyomizu-dera with gold, is the most picturesque time to visit. Unfortunately, everyone else has figured that out as well; an early-morning visit may help to avoid the crowds. Reconstructed in 1633, the temple’s main highlights are the main hall and adjoining stage, which sit above the hillside on a system of interlocking pillars constructed without nails. Following the path through the temple grounds leads one to the Otowa Waterfall, which promises love, longevity, or success to those who drink from one of its three streams. During the cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons, Kiyomizu-dera is open after normal operating hours for nighttime illuminations.

Name in Japanese
294 Kiyomizu 1-chome, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto
Mon-Sun: 06:00-18:00 (nighttime illuminations: 18:00-21:00)
075 551 1234
300 JPY

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