Kyoto, Japan

The N7W crew got picked up early in the morning and driven to the temple’s new office building. There, I had the pleasure of first meeting Mr. Seihan Mori, Chief Abbot of Kiyomizu-Dera. I handed him, as a present, our 3D model postcard of the giant Buddha statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan that were destroyed in 2001. This was the first New7Wonders Foundation conservation project, undertaken in collaboration with the ETH Swiss Federal Technical Institute.

Mr. Mori was thrilled with this gift and, in return, gave me a traditional Japanese fan with a black-and-white ink illustration of the Kiyomizu temple, which he had painted. I discovered that he is also a great and famous Japanese calligrapher. An impressive man.

The working day then started with some TV interviews on the terrace and the garden of the temple. I was very impressed with the way in which the Japanese cameraman angled his pictures to get complete coverage of both the place and of the interviewee.

Finally, the ceremony started with the Seiryu-e, or blue dragon, Ride at the gate of the temple. The blue dragon is a reincarnation of the temple’s main statue, Kannon, and comes to drink every night at the Otowa no taki waterfall in the temple precincts. What a ceremony and performance that was! It started with an opening sequence of traditional Japanese warriors blowing their shell horns, announcing the holy divinities and goodness and the dragon, of course …This was all presented in a unique and fascinating rhythm – many in slow motion, then suddenly, abruptly, with great speed. This alone was so fascinating to watch that one almost forgot the pure visual pleasure of the beautifully handmade leather and linen costumes and this unique, most astonishing dragon. Fantastic colors, all balanced to make the whole scenery a perfect unity and an exceptional experience for our senses – these magnificent sights and sounds, enhanced by the scent of the incense sticks glowing everywhere.

The dragon dance led us inside the temple where the certificate ceremony was going to be held, again in a most splendid environment. The dark wood was flecked with shadows from the few rays of sunlight that shone into this majestic temple, which gave it the kind of mystical atmosphere mostly only experienced on lavish film sets. To Mr Mori’s left, the temple dignitaries and honored guests from the Kyoto prefecture and Mayor’s office were seated, and we were seated to his right. The ceremony to present the N7W certificate of candidacy was perfectly introduced by a charming Japanese lady, and it was then a real pleasure to hand the certificate to Mr. Mori. It was interesting to note that it actually bears the same signature, of Prof. Federico Mayor, as the UNESCO World Heritage listing certificate for the Kyoto cultural sites. I could see in his eyes his appreciation and that, for me personally, is what matters most.

After the speeches by the dignitaries, the dragon returned with a roll of thunder, first to chase the bad spirits from all four corners of Kyoto, and then to get a blessing from the priest in front of us. The whole group walked through the temple, all receiving the blessing. I was told afterward that not only is it very rare that all the leaders of the different religions take part in a ceremony, but it is also rare for Kiyomizu-Dera to actually host any kind of celebration! Now that is really something special, if New7Wonders not only brings people together to respect cultural diversity but also religious diversity.

The program continued in the evening with the seasonal lighting of the temple. Children, some not older then 6 years old, performed a perfect drum concert. Unbelievable again: the synchronization and choreography of the rhythm and their movements. It was fascinating to watch, as was the traditional dance performance that opened the evening festivities.

Visiting Kiyomizu Temple, it definitely became clear to me that this is no ordinary temple. It is the only monument built of wood (not using any other element, such as steel nails) of the 21 N7W finalists. Wood is mankind’s most precious, most commonly used natural raw material. Plus, as its name, Kiyomizu, means “clear waters,” it also represents one of the central challenges facing future generations: clean water!

Japan definitely met and exceeded our expectations, presenting their monument with pride, compassion and a generosity that I have rarely experienced.

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