Byōdō-in is home to one of the loveliest Buddhist structures in Japan: the Hōō-dō hall (Phoenix Hall), which is depicted on the back of the Japanese ¥10 coin. Perched overlooking a serene reflecting pond, this refurbished hall is a stunning sight. Paired with a stroll along the banks of the nearby Uji-gawa, this temple makes a good half-day trip out of Kyoto City.
This temple was converted from a Fujiwara villa into a Buddhist temple in 1052. The Hōō-dō, 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. Guided 15-minute tours (an extra ¥300) inside the hall are in Japanese but there is an English leaflet.
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.
The modern Hoshokan Museum (9am to 5pm) contains the original temple bell and door paintings and the original phoenix roof adornments, along with a collection of Unchū Kuyō Bosatsu Buddhist statues. Allow about an hour all up for your visit.