Monday, December 5th, 2022

Byodoin Temple: a fine example of Japan’s Cultural Heritage

Photograph of two women looking across the pond in front of the Byodoin Buddhist Temple. The temple is on the left, with the expanse of the pool in the foreground

It was the last chance to visit the famed Phoenix Hall before the tourists returned. Japan was opening for the first time in more than two years, and a flood of pent-up demand was expected. Hoping to beat the inevitable crowds, and enjoy a quieter setting, it was off to Byodoin.

Located about a dozen kilometres outside Kyoto City, the temple complex at Byodoin is one of the few surviving from the Fujiwara Regent period. Originally a rural villa, in 1052 it passed to Fujiwara no Yorimichi, a devout Buddhist and Regent to the 70th Emperor of Japan. He set it on its path to majesty with the construction of Amida-do: the formal name of the Phoenix Hall.

Photograph of the Byodoin Buddhist Temple at Uji showing the structure front on and its representation of a bird unfolding its wings
The Byodoin Temple resembles a bird unfolding its wings.

The building appears as a bird unfolding its wings above a pond that offers impressive reflections of the structure. Extensive landscaping provides a relaxed walk around its exterior, where it often stands as if floating above the water.

Inside, the hall is home to a 2-and-a-half metre tall statue of Buddha, and is ornately decorated with paintings and carvings. While the entire complex is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the status of “National Treasure” is reserved for this one structure and its statue.

Photograph of a wooden bridge spanning from land to the entrance to the buddhist temple at Byodoin
Access to the main hall is via this bridge and only as part of a guided tour.

Over the centuries that followed its founding, the complex was extended and renovated, although the main hall has been left relatively unchanged in appearance. Adjoining temples and shrines have been absorbed into the complex, extending its reach across this quarter of Uji.

One significant addition is the museum. It features many artifacts from the compound, including original decorations, books and artworks. Perhaps the highlight is the recreation of the Pheonix Hall’s interior. It brings to life the faded colours of the original and gives a sense of how it might have looked when first constructed.

Photograph of the temple at Byodoin. In the foreground is the pond winding towards the temple, with a large tree on the right hand side
A formal route leads you around the temple to enjoy it from different angles and perspectives.

There are two formal routes around the temple, and access to the inside of the hall is via a formal tour. The paths are rough and unmade, which was causing a few problems for some wheelchair users and people with prams.

Otherwise, it was an enjoyable two-and-a-half hour visit to the Byodoin Temple soaking up Japanese culture and Buddhist history.

Photograph of the Byodoin Temple seen from behind with an emphasis on the contrast between the white walls and red wooden frame

Visitor information is available in English from the Byodoin Temple website.

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction. Find out more.