Byodoin Temple 平等院
Featured on the reverse of a Japanese ten yen coin, this exquisite temple of Byodoin is actually in the city of Uji south east from Kyoto city. During the early years after the founding of Kyoto as the imperial capital in the 8th century, Uji became a retreat for court nobles, who built summer villas here.
Converted from his villa in 1052 by the Regent Fujiwara Yorimichi (a 'regent' being one who governed in the name of the Emperor), Byodoin has one of Japan's few remaining Pure Land Buddhist gardens, characterized by a 'natural' layout. Byodoin is dominated by the Phoenix Hall (Ho-odo) built to house the gilded, seated Amitabha (Amida) Tathagata image of the Buddha attributed to the famed sculptor Jocho.
Phoenix Hall literally represents the mythical Chinese Phoenix (Ho-o) descending to earth, with the central hall the body of the bird, the lateral corridors its wings and the tail represented by the rear corridor. Above the central hall on the roof are a pair of male and female bronze phoenix.
Byodoin Temple houses numerous national treasures, including the Phoenixes after which the Hall is named, and the sole remaining Buddhist statues from the 11th century: the 52 Worshipping Bodhisattvas on Clouds, to name but two. The mythical phoenix motif is Chinese in origin and the bird was believed to be a protector of the Buddha.
As well as being able to enjoy its beautiful grounds, the visitor can visit the Byodo-in temple museum and see the establishment's treasures in a computer-graphically reproduced interior of the Phoenix Hall.
Buddhist paintings by court painter Tamenari Takuma though fading still adorn some of the interior walls and panels of the Phoenix Hall.
On the north side of the temple is the Kannon-do (Kannon Hall) with an eleven-headed statue of Kannon and nearby the "fan-shaped lawn" where the warrior Minamoto Yorisma is reputed to have committed suicide in 1180 after a battle with his enemy the Taira clan.
The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu has its finale set in Uji. Uji has a museum dedicated to Murasaki Shikibu and her masterpiece - the Tale of Genji Museum (Tel: 0774 39 9300) with 3-D projections explaining the final chapters of the book and the Uji heroine - Ukifune.
Ujigami Shrine (宇治上神社) is an ancient shrine closely connected with Byodo-in and can easily be visited together with the temple. The shrine buildings are the oldest still extant in Japan dating back to the 10th century. The shrine precincts contain one of the seven famous wells of Uji. The lower part of the shrine (now called Uji Shrine) has buildings from the Kamakura Period (1192-1333). Nearby is Hojoin Temple (aka Hashidera or Bridge Temple) which has the oldest stone monument in Japan, a tablet describing the construction of the first Uji Bridge over the Uji River in 646.
Byodo-in in Hawaii
A scale replica of Byodo-in was built at the foot of the Ko'olau Mountains in Hawaii in 1968. The wooden temple is built entirely without nails and has been used as a popular backdrop for such TV dramas as Hawaii Five-O, Magnum, P.I and Lost.
Byodoin Access - Getting to Uji
Byodo-in is a short walk from Uji station (JR or Keihan lines). Take a JR train from Kyoto Station or a Keihan Line train from Sanjo or Shijo Keihan stations. Journey time is about 30 minutes. By car Uji is a slow, congested drive south on National Highway 24 through Fushimi and Momoyama.
116 Uji-renge, Uji City
Tel: 0774 21 2861
Hours: Open 8.30am to 5.30pm daily (9am and 4.30 pm, Dec-Feb).
Admission: 600 yen for adults.