In Kyoto from March 15th to the 17th, it is the Blue Dragon or Seiryu-e Festival that is celebrated at the Kiyomizu-Dera temple. Early spring weather can be very unpredictable and the day we went had very heavy rain and strong winds as you can tell from the photographs, it was dark at 2 pm in the afternoon but I’m so please we went anyway!
The procession through the temple grounds was cut short due to the high winds blowing the dragon and its attendants around but the ceremony and entertainment in the main temple went ahead as we all sheltered inside.
This is a lesser-known festival and there were few tourists present, perhaps also due to the weather but this made it feel more like a local celebration and everyone was friendly and happy as we squeezed together to watch the event out of the weather. We definitely felt it was a privilege to attend the more intimate ceremony, I imagine on a sunny day the streets and temple would be crowded with people.
Although we had umbrellas with us they were quickly blown inside out and broken by the wind. As we walked back through Higashiyama later in the afternoon the rubbish bins were crammed with broken umbrellas, fortunately, they are easy and cheap to buy in Japan. We might have looked a bit of haphazard sight by the time we walked back into the hotel in the late afternoon but we’d had a fun and memorable day in Kyoto.
We were able to get close enough to see the incredible detail in the dragons head.
The start of the ceremony involves chanting in the main temple
The dragon wasn’t able to make it around the full route on this day due to the high winds.
What is Seiryu-e?
Seiryu-e is a festival held in Spring and Autumn at Kiyomizudera temple in the Higashiyama district of Kyoto. It’s the festival of the blue dragon that is said to drink from the waterfall at the temple.
The festival is based on a legend that says that Kyoto is protected on all sides by 4 Gods from the beginning of time. One of these gods is Seiryu, a sacred dragon guarding the Higashiyama area to the east, where Kiyomizu-Dera Temple is located. Seiryu is considered to be an incarnation of the Buddhist Bodhisattva, Kannon (Avalokiteshvara), an enlightened being of Mercy and Compassion who is worshipped in the Kiyomizu-Dera Temple.
Seiryu is revered for watching over Kyoto day and night without rest to protect the people from misfortune. In deep appreciation of Seiryu, a Buddhist ritual called Kiyomizu-Dera Seiryu-e began in the year 2000.
The image of the blue dragon was completely designed by a renowned local costume designer, Emi Wada, and was constructed with donations and cooperation from Kyoto-based traditional craftsmen. With the festival being held indoors we got closer to the costume than might normally be possible and it was beautiful, the attention to detail was very impressive.
The festival involves a ceremony and a 1.5-hour procession that snakes its way around the temple and the small streets of the surrounding township area.
When is Seiryu-e held at Kiyomizudera?
The festival is held in Spring and Autumn on 7 days each year. It can be attended on March 15, 16, 17, April 3, September 15, 16, and 17. It starts at 2 pm in the main temple and runs through until 3.30 pm.
Here is a rough timeline festival procession to help you locate the blue dragon:
2.00 pm Okuno-in
Hon-dou (the main temple)
Otowa-no-taki (the waterfall)
Three layered pagoda
The town surrounding Kizomizu-dera Temple
Ni-ou Gate (the steps at the main entrance)
Kairou (the cloisters)
Stage at Kiyomizu
3.30pm Hon-dou (Main Temple)
What is the entry fee for Seiryu-e at Kiyomizudera?
The standard cost to enter the temple applies (Y300 last time we were there) but there was no additional fee for the festival itself. That makes it a remarkable value and very special addition to a visit to Kyoto.
If you didn’t want to enter the temple itself you can view parts of the festival from the temple outer area, entrance gate and the town at no cost.