sights / Religious

Lonely Planet review

If you happen to have a ¥10 coin in your pocket, dig it out now and have a look at it. The building depicted on the coin is the main hall of this pretty temple in the centre of Uji. Overlooking a serene pond, the hall is one of the loveliest Buddhist structures in Japan.

This temple was converted from a Fujiwara villa into a Buddhist temple in 1052. The Hōō-dō (Phoenix Hall), the main hall of the temple, was built in 1053 and is the only original building remaining. The phoenix used to be a popular mythical bird in China and was revered by the Japanese as a protector of Buddha. The architecture of the building resembles the shape of the bird and there are two bronze phoenixes perched opposite each other on the roof.

The Hōō-dō was originally intended to represent Amida’s heavenly palace in the Pure Land. This building is one of the few extant examples of Heian-period architecture, and its graceful lines make you wish that far more had survived the wars and fires that have plagued Kyoto’s past. Inside the hall is the famous statue of Amida Buddha and 52 bosatsu (Bodhisattvas) dating from the 11th century and attributed to the priest-sculptor Jōchō.

Nearby, the Hōmotsukan Treasure House contains the original temple bell and door paintings and the original phoenix roof adornments. Allow about an hour to wander through the grounds.

To get to Byōdō-in from Keihan Uji Station, cross the river on the bridge right outside the station; immediately after crossing the bridge, take a left past a public toilet (don’t take the street with the large stone torii , or shrine gate), and continue straight through the park.