A picture near Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

Outside Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

Beneath the beautiful Kiyomizu-dera Temple lies a hidden gem known as tainai meguri. A unique and spiritual experience, tainai meguri allows you to journey into a pitch-black chamber beneath the main hall of the temple, Zuigu-do Hall. It is a spiritual exploration meant to symbolize rebirth and making your own light in the dark.

Symbolism of tainai meguri

Translating to “journey to the womb” in Japanese, entering the sacred grounds under the temple symbolizes returning to the womb and emerging reborn. Specifically, you’re walking into the womb of the female Bodhisattva Daizuigu. According to Buddhist teaching, a Bodhisattva has achieved a great measure of enlightenment and is on the way to becoming a Buddha, yet remains among humans because of their compassion. By stepping into the tainai meguri, one embraces the concepts of spiritual transformation and renewal.

Navigating the spiritual realm

The tainai meguri experience begins by paying a fee of 100 yen per person and removing your shoes. Photography inside the tunnel is strictly prohibited. Attendants stagger visitors to ensure everyone gets a safe and individual experience, allowing each person to reach the bottom of a flight of stone steps before allowing the next person to enter. After descending the stone staircase and winding around a corner, the light fades. The complete lack of light is by design, representing a journey of self-discovery where trusting individual intuition is necessary to traverse the spiritual realm.

Tickets for Tainai-meguri and Kiyomizu-dera Temple.
Tickets for the tainai meguri and Kiyomizu-dera Temple.

Completely devoid of light, the tunnel challenges its visitors to rely on other senses, mainly touch, to find their way out of the tunnel. To navigate the tunnel, hold your hand on the left, following the chain of wooden beads.

Towards the end of the tunnel sits a stone representing the womb of Daizuigu. An important Bodhisattva in East Asian Buddhism, Daizuigu is a female Bodhisattva capable of granting any wish. Touching the smooth stone grants wishes and blessings to visitors. The stone is also said to hold healing powers.

Sensory experiences

Some visitors to Kiyomizu-dera Temple reported seeing figures in the tunnel with them.

“I started hallucinating,” Allison Binkley said. “I saw a crowd of people standing and surrounding me in the tunnel. It was really weird.”

Additionally, when reaching the stone, some saw a shimmering quality.

“It was like sound waves,” Allison said.

The sensory experience inside the tunnel aids in meditation and introspection. While silence is encouraged, the intense darkness leaves some visitors on edge.

“I felt something brush against my leg, and I got so freaked out,” Bre Citizen said.

In one case, the mystery sensation was quickly solved.

“It turns out it was just this one,” he said, pointing to Aspen Plummer, “who bumped into me.”

Visiting tainai meguri

Tainai meguri at Kiyomizu-dera Temple invites the curious and the spiritual to embark on an introspective journey. The experience is a testament to the temple’s vibrant history and continued commitment to preserving centuries-old practices and rituals.

For those brave enough to venture into the dark, tainai meguri is open every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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