established by fujiwara yorimichi in the year 1053, byodo-in (平等院) was converted from a villa that he received from his father. that year also happened to mark 2000 years since the passing of the buddha. the amidabha hall as seen above contained several national treasures including the hall itself, the statue of the buddha inside, paintings, the temple bell, the phoenixes, and 52 wooden statues.
the architecture of the building resembles the shape of a phoenix during flight. the phoenix is thought by the japanese to be a protector of buddha, and the building’s architecture and its two phoenix statues perched on the roof are protecting the statue of amitabha tathagata. this is the original building, which was restored during the meiji restoration.
if you decide to visit byodo-in, you can also visit ujigami-jinja (宇治上神社), which is a UNESCO site as well and about a 15 minute walk. i also recommend that you visit kosho-ji (興聖寺) since it’s in the area, has a wonderful garden, and the road to the location follows the river for a nice view.
you can take the JR line or the keihan (京阪) line to get to the city of uji (宇治) where the temple is located. from either station it is about a 10 minute walk to the entrance. the keihan line is cheaper (photo below), though the JR line will be faster.
from the keihan station cross the bridge over the river in front of the station and then make a left.
just on the other side of the bridge is this beautiful statue.
as you walk down the street past the statue above, you will see many ice cream shops selling green tea ice cream and several tea shops. the uji area is a tea growing region in japan. i do recommend you try both, as they are delicious, though it can be a little bitter by western standards. here’s one of the tea shops. the sign reads uji tea (宇治茶).
at a restaurant close to this shop i had a refreshing zaru soba (cold noodles made with tea) and some cold tea. they both hit the spot on a hot and muggy summer day. of course, they have hot tea and food items as well. most of the restaurants on the left side of the street will have great views of the river. but beware of the prices, one shop i saw was quite expensive, 1,100 yen and up for desert.
i had a very good ma-cha ice cream with azuki (sweet read beans) and rice balls. eating it in these surroundings made it that much better. i was so relaxed and focused on the flavor of the ice cream that it felt as if i was meditating. :)
just past the shops you will come to the entrance of byodo-in. it’s 600 yen to get in and make sure to pick up the english pamphlet. it will grant you access to everywhere, with the exception of the 15 minute tour of the main hall, which costs an additional 300 yen. this second ticket will have your tour time on it. the tour is in japanese, but getting that close to the building and actually seen the inside for yourself is worth the extra money. unfortunately no photography is allowed, and make certain not to touch anything (doors, columns…) or they will get after you. ;)
the brief tour starts where this photo was taken. also notice the back part of the building. this represents the tail of the phoenix.
another angle of the main hall. i don’t know, the more i look at this building the more i love it. it is certainly unique in its architecture, which dates from the heian period.
this is a popular site in japan do to its history, beauty, and engraving on the 10 yen coin. can you see it? :)
it makes for quite a contrast to walk into the museum at byodo-in. the building’s architecture is modern and worth a look itself. this is a view of the garden which you will see after you go through the museum.
no photography is allowed here either. there is a convenient 5 minute video with english subtitles that gives a good overview of the temple. inside you will find the actual national treasures that i mentioned earlier. they are being kept in the museum for preservation purposes and ease of viewing. i recommend playing close attention to the wooden statues of worshiping bodhisattvas on clouds. keep in mind that each statue is made from carving a piece of wood, including the long flowing threads and musical instruments. the skill and delicacy would make michelangelo proud.
walking around the grounds i found this guy giving a free history lesson about the place. it was in japanese, but even if you do not understand i think it is fun to listen and watch. not sure what those things around his arms are, but pretty cool.
i like the simplicity of this entrance and the see through screen. the sandals add a nice touch i think.
i was sitting in the shade waiting for my tour time slop when i saw this angle of the hall’s roof line. i had to take a picture.
video of byodo-in for your pleasure.
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