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Meet the team with a burning desire to protect Kyoto's Kiyomizu-dera temple

Monks, shopkeepers and business owners ready to rush in should fire threaten one of Japan's most cherished treasures

The Kiyomizu-dera Temple Security Association counts shopkeepers, business owners and monks among its members.   © Taro Terasawa

The wooden gates and halls of Kyoto’s Kiyomizu-dera temple are among Japan’s most cherished treasures; the oldest of the Buddhist temple’s ancient structures has clung to the side of Mount Otowa for more than 1,200 years. But much of what worshippers see today was built in 1633, four years after a fire -- the 10th in the temple’s recorded history -- tore through the complex.

There hasn’t been a fire at Kiyomizu-dera in about four centuries. But if one were to break out, Hiromu Tanaka would lead the Kiyomizu-dera Temple Security Association’s efforts to save the site.

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