Byōdō-in Newly renovated:
Since March of this month, the Phoenix Hall (鳳凰堂) of Byōdō-in (平等院), was once again visible. For the past two years it was covered in scaffolding because of renovation. There is still a small part in the back that is still undergoing construction though. This fall the work should be completed. I was curious to see what it looked like. Previously, I had visited in April of 2009 and November of 2010.
The Phoenix Hall:
The new Phoenix hall looks colorful with its new vermillion paint. Inside the Chudo of the Phoenix Hall is a statue of Amitabha Tathagata (阿弥陀如来), dating back to the Heian Period. This statue was carved by Jōchō (定朝) in 1053 and is made of wood covered with gold leaf, with a height of almost 3 meters. There are also 52 statues of Worshiping Bodhisattvas on clouds, wall and door paintings depicting Amida’s nine grades of decent. The paintings on the massive doors of the Phoenix Hall are called Raigō. They were painted by Tamenari Takuma in the 11th century and are an early example of Yamato-e, Japanese-style painting. They contain representations of the scenery around Kyoto of the 11th century.
There are two bridges leading to the Phoenix Hall of Byōdō-in across the Aji-ike Pond (阿字池). The first one, a flat bridge called Hirabashi and the second one a arched one called Soribashi. The Soribashi bridge symbolizes passage from this world into the heavily realm of Amida Buddha.
The roof of the Phoenix hall is decorated with two Golden Phoenixes called Ho’o in Japanese. Furthermore dragon head tiles are on the roof of the Ho’o-do, they are called Ryūzu Gawara (龍頭瓦). There is a legend about these “Dragon Head tiles”. Uji is compared to a great dragon’s palace, and the Uji River, which flows through it, is where the founder of Byōdō-in, Fujiwara Yorimichi watches over his masterpiece as a dragon god. Dragons also come out quite often in Buddhist teachings as creatures which uphold Buddhist law. Dragons also are featured alongside snakes – which are symbols of fertility – in much folklore and legends in Japan.
Sub-temples of Byōdō-in:
Jodo-in: After passing through the Nan-mon (南門) or south gate the Jodo-in is on your left side.
Rakan-do: Next is the Rakan-do (羅漢堂) of Jodo-in (浄土院), inside are wooden sculptors of Chashi Hoshino Dōsai(茶師 星野道斎) and his disciples. The Rakan-do was established in 1614. A Chashi is a master tea connoisseur in the art of selecting and blending tea.
Saisho-in: Next to the Fudo-do hall is a memorial stone to Minamoto no Yorimasa (源 頼政-1106–1180), head of the Genji clan who fought in Uji against the powerful Heike family. He lost against Taira no Kiyomori (平 清盛-1118 – March 20, 1181) and committed suicide by seppuku at the Byodo-in temple reciting waka poems. Every year, on May 26, a memorial service is held here to commemorate this historical event.
This was the poem he recited:
“Like an old tree
From which we gather no blossoms
Sad has been my life
Fated to bear no fruit”
Kannon-do: The Kannon-do was built in the Kamakura period, somewhere between 1180 and 1185. Inside is a statue of Rengeshu Bosatsu (Avalokiteśvara) from the Heian period.
Fujidana Wisteria Trellis: this is a famous spot for wisteria viewing. I was a little late to see its flowers, I did hear it’s quite impressive. This wisteria tree is believed to be around 250 years old and blooms from late April to early May. This is a golden week favorite for many.
History of Byōdō-in:
Byōdō-in (平等院) is a Buddhist temple in the city of Uji in Kyoto Prefecture, Japan. This temple was originally built in 998 in the Heian period as a rural villa of high ranking courtier Minamoto no Shigenobu, Minister of the Left. The property was purchased from Minamoto no Shigenobu’s wife after he died by Fujiwara no Michinaga, one of the most powerful members of the Fujiwara clan. The villa was made into a Buddhist temple by Fujiwara no Yorimichi in 1052. The most famous building in the temple is the Phoenix Hall (鳳凰堂 Hōō-dō) or the Amida Hall, constructed in 1053. It is the only remaining original building, surrounded by a scenic pond; additional buildings making up the compound were burnt down during a civil war in 1336.
The main building in Byōdō-in, the Phoenix Hall, consists of a central hall, flanked by twin wing corridors on both sides of the central hall, and a tail corridor. The central hall houses an image of Amida Buddha. The roof of the hall displays statues of the Chinese phoenix, called hōō in Japanese. (This part is courtesy of Wikipedia)
See all pictures here: Byōdō-in: A World Heritage Site