When visiting the many temples and shrines that Kyoto is famous for, you must make a point of including the beautiful Byodo-in Temple, located in the city of Uji. It was originally constructed as a villa for Fujiwara-no-Michinaga in 998 AD. Following Fujiwara’s death in 1052 AD, his son converted the building into a Buddhist temple. The Phoenix Hall or Hodo was constructed in 1053 AD and it is all that remains today of all of the magnificent buildings that once stood on the grounds.
The temple complex was once much larger and the beach surrounding the pond stretched to the Uji River. Unfortunately, most of the buildings were burned down during the civil war of 1336.
The Phoenix Hall houses a large wooden statue of Amida Buddha seated on a high platform. The sculpture is constructed from Japanese cypress and is covered with gold leaf. The statue measures approximately 10 feet high from its face to its knees. Fifty-two wooden statues of bodhisattvas, said to express heaven, surround the statue. Phoenix Hall was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December of 1994 and is commemorated on the back of the Japanese ten yen coin.
The temple also possesses what is considered to be one of the most famous bells in Japan. Designated as a National Treasure, the temple bell bears no inscriptions, only reliefs of maidens and lions. The bell’s design is thought to be of Korean influence.
On the temple grounds you will find a fan shaped lawn where Minamoto no Yorimasa took his own life after being defeated by the rival Taira clan. Minamoto was a prominent Japanese poet and a warrior. His ritual suicide by seppuku is the earliest recorded instance of a samurai’s suicide in the face of defeat.
Interestingly, there is a replica of Byodo-in located at the Valley of the Temples on O’ahu, Hawaii. It was constructed in 1968 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.
Byodo-in Temple in Uji is merely a 10-15 minute walk from the Uji Station on the JR Nara Line. Alternatively, you can take the Keihan Uji Line from central Kyoto (Shijo Station) to Uji. The trip takes 30 minutes and the temple is a 5 minute walk from the station.
The temple is open to the public from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM. There is an admission charge of ¥600.
Address: 16 Renge, Uji, Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture