The Tales of the Byodo-in Temple

Buddhism in Japan

There are a number of religions that are being practiced in Japan most of which are centuries old. One of these religions would be Buddhism which was officially introduced to the Japanese culture in the year 500. It is believed that it was brought to the shores of Japan by the Chinese much earlier than this, however, it was yet to make an influential impact. Unlike other aspects of the Japanese culture which was introduced by the Chinese, there is evidence that shows that it was only due to the introduction of the Koreans that this religion officially spread in Japan.

Buddhism is very important in the culture of the Japanese because a great deal of their lifestyle is based on its teachings. For instance, it is believed to be one of the means for the shogunate to control the Japanese society during the feudal times. It is the responsibility of Buddhist monks and temples to register citizens per city as a means of administration. This data proved to be useful and important in recording the country’s census during the feudal era, giving historians of today an insight of the demographics of the period.  

This religion also proved to have important roles in art and literature. Buddhist art has become a means of expression. Buddhist deities have become important elements not only in their religion but in folklore and literature. On top of that, holidays are among the core celebrations in Japanese culture. Examples of this include the Obon which is a festival that celebrates the spirit of the dead.

Popular Buddhist Temples in Japan

The most important cultural influence of Buddhism in Japan would be architecture. These Buddhist temples are among those that are considered as National Treasures of Japan. These are structures that serve as cultural properties that are under the protection and conservation of the Japanese government because of their role and value in history.

Buddhist temples are places of worship and are usually home to important deities and gods. However, most temples have a few common architectural landmarks. All temples have main halls which are the central locations of the sacred objects of worship. There are also bells which are rung during the New Year celebrations. Then inside the temple grounds are lecture halls and gates – common tourist highlights.

What is most interesting about Buddhist temples would be the presence of the pagoda. Usually, these places are centers for which the remains of Buddha can be found – it can be a piece of flesh, a tooth, and the like.

The majority of the historical temples which are being preserved in Japan are located in Kyoto because of the fact that it used to be the capital city of the country. Up until today, Kyoto remains to be one of the largest cultural centers in all of Japan.

Among the popular Buddhist temples in Japan would be the Todai-ji in Nara, the Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto, the Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto and the Byodo-in temple in Kyoto.

The history of the Byodo-in Temple

The Byodo-in Temple was built in the year 900s as a rural villa of a man named Minamoto no Shigenobu. This man holds a powerful place in government and was one of the influential minds of his time. Upon his death, the villa was bought by the Fujiwara clan and was turned into a small palace. At this time, the villa was refurbished and new structures were built within the compound.

When the head of the Fujiwara clan died, the family then decided to turn the compound into a temple for Buddha Amida. The civil war of the 1300s destroyed a large part of the temple grounds.

Since then, the temple grounds is considered as a National Historic Site and a Place of Scenic Beauty. In 1994, UNESCO has declared the Phoenix Hall as a World Heritage Site and is considered as one of the Most Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto.

A visit to the Byodo-in Temple

Location of the Byodo-in Temple

The Byodo-in Temple is located in Uji-shi of the Kyoto Prefecture in Japan. It holds a very important place in Japan’s history and culture. It is considered as one of the best preserved historical places in Japan. It also features the finest architecture, design, and art of the late Heian period. This particular temple is among the most visited travel destinations in Kyoto.

Byodo-in Temple Hours

Since it is highly visited by travel enthusiasts not only from Japan but foreign travelers as well, the Byodo-in Temple is open all year-round. This means that their gates are open even during the holidays, for people who could only travel during these times of the year.

The Byodo-in garden opens the earliest at 8:30 AM for early travelers and closes at 5:30 PM. It is best to visit at this time because the dews on the greenery make the garden even lovelier. The Byodo-in Museum opens at 9:00 AM and closes at 5:00 PM. Lastly, the Phoenix Hall opens at 9:10 AM and closes at 4:10 AM. It is important to remember that there are only 50 limited slots at a time to ensure safety and conservation of the structure.

How to travel to Byodo-in Temple

The Byodo-in Temple cannot be accessed directly via train but it is not that difficult to find. Anyone take the JR line between Kyoto and Nara. It can be accessed from the JR Kyoto Station in 16 minutes. Those accessing the Byodo-in Temple from the JR Nara Station can reach the destination after a 32-minute express train ride.  

Anyone traveling from Nara can get to the Byodo-in Temple via the JR Nara Line. From here, stop at the Uji station to access the local Keihan Uji Line. Then, travel to the Keihan Uji Station and walk 10 minutes to the temple.

For those who are traveling from far destinations, there are a number of hotels around the area. It is best for those who wish to further enjoy the beauty of Uji in Kyoto.

Admission Fees to the Byodo-in Temple

There are fees to pay upon entry to the temple grounds. There is a joint entrance fee to the garden and museum. Adult tickets cost 600 yen, Junior High and High School students have discounted rates at 400 yen. Lastly, grade school rates cost 300 yen. An additional admission fee for the Phoenix Hall is 300 yen.

Things to know about the Byodo-in Temple in Japan (Kyoto)

Byodo-in Temple Museum

The Byodo-in Temple Museum houses the majority of Byodo-in’s important treasures. The museum is home to about 50 wooden Bodhisattvas or wooden statues which represent individuals who have attained a mind and soul to become like Buddha. There are also other ancient worship items stored inside the Byodo-in temple museum.

Inside the temple, the museum is the original temple bell which is believed to be more than 900 years old. This bell is an important and sacred element of the temple and is considered as the temple’s important national treasure. Also home to the museum is the ancient and historical items that belonged to previous owners of the temple grounds. These include well-preserved clothing, furniture, lacquerware and the like.

The Phoenix Hall

Also known as the Amida Hall, this is known to be the most famous building in all of the temple complex. It was constructed in the year 1053 and is one of the oldest structures of the Byodo-in Temple. This building is so popular that it is believed that it has a very rich association with Japan’s first novel – The Tales of Genji.

In truth, this hall was not built to become the main hall of the Byodo-in Temple. It was actually a country palace built for the Fujiwara clan. However, upon the death of Fujiwara, the land was sold and it was turned into a temple as a home to the shrine of Buddha Amida.

By AKS.9955 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This building got its name from its beauty because it is furnished with the finest architectural design and art of the period. It was designed to be as graceful as the bird of luck and rebirth – a Phoenix such as its name.  It is so popular that it is featured on the 10 yen coin.

Jodo-Shiki garden

This garden is also known as the Pure Land garden and it is made up of an integration of the Amida hall and a pond. According to historical records, it was designed as such to represent Pure Land on Earth. This is a place to pray for rebirth and reincarnation in paradise. It is believed that this garden will take its temple goers nearer to paradise.

A lot of people enjoy going to the Jodo-Shiki garden to feed the hundreds of koi fish living in the ponds. This is an enjoyable and peaceful activity for a lot of travelers especially those going out with friends and family.

Byodo-in Temple Bell

Inside the temple complex is the Bell House or the kanetru-ki-do. This houses the “sacred bell” or bon-sho of the Byodo-in Temple. This is a massive bell that weighs roughly three tons and is of a height of five feet. This bell made of brass is believed to be 900 years old and was a gift from India.

Temple goers usually ring the bell once with the use of a shu-moku, or a wooden log, as a means of cleansing the mind and body of all evils – such as sin and temptation. It is believed as well that this cleansing will bring about blessings and happiness.

The bell in the Byodo-in Temple is rung 108 times during the New Year. It is believed that each of this ring represents all the 108 worldly desires of the Buddhists. These are vices and evils which are shunned in the Buddhist religion. Ringing a bell for each is a representation of shunning such earthly defilements.

Furthermore, a lot of people go to the Byodo-in Temple to light an incense and send messages to their ancestors and loved ones. Some say, that the place was made peaceful and sacred to easily meditate for prayer.

Things to know about the Byodo-in Temple in Hawaii

One of the interesting things about the Byodo-in Temple is the fact that there is a half-sized miniature of this temple in Hawaii. Located on the island of O’ahu, the Byodo-in Temple is built in 1968 at the Valley of the Temples.

The temple grounds was built as a commemoration of the centennial anniversary of the first groups of Japanese people who migrated to Hawaii. This temple is a replica of the original temple which is located in Kyoto. Just like the original temple found in Kyoto, it is home to a gigantic bell which visitors ring upon every visit. It is also home to a large wooden statue of the Buddha Amida or Amitabha. Just like the original temple, the Byodo-in temple in Hawaii is also a place for traditional funerals. It is home to a small traditional Cemetery where Japanese Buddhists are laid to rest.

This place is actually designated as a Hawaii State Landmark which means that it is considered as one of Hawaii’s most cherished cultural destinations. The beautiful temple grounds is home to a pond, a small waterfall, and a large garden. This is perfect for appreciating nature. Some people go here as well as a meditation niche or to feed the koi fish in the ponds. There is also some wildlife living within the temple grounds.

A lot of people visit this temple for worshipping purposes. However, it is also a popular destination for pictorials, weddings and other ceremonies. There are also traditional tea ceremonies held in the pavilions and pagodas around the temple grounds. On top of that, it is also a popular shooting destination as it is featured in a number of popular shows such as Hawaii Five-O.