Byodo-in Temple (平等院)

Byodo-in Temple is a temple connected to the Fujiwara clan located in Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture.
The architecture, Buddhist imagery, paintings and gardens date from the latter part of the Heian period in the 11th century and the temple has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the '{Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto}.'
Its honorific mountain prefix is 'Asahisan.'
It had been devoted to both Jodo Sect and Tendai Sect since the 17th century but is now independent and not affiliated with any particular Buddhist sect. It was founded by Kaiki (founding patron), FUJIWARA no Yorimichi and Kaisan (founding priest), Myoson and dedicated to the principal image, Amitabha.


The Founding of Byodo-in Temple

The Uji area to the south of Kyoto is the setting for the 'Uji Jujo' (10 Uji chapters) of the "The Tale of Genji" and had been a place where nobility constructed their villas since the early Heian period. The current location of Byodo-in Temple is where the Sadaijin (Minister of the Left), MINAMOTO no Toru of Saga Genji, who is said to have been the model for Hikaru Genji, built his villa at the end of the 9th century, which was then passed on to Emperor Uda who gave it to his grandson MINAMOTO no Shigenobu before it became the Uji-den villa of Regent FUJIWARA no Michinaga in 998. Michinaga passed away in 1027 and his son, Chancellor FUJIWARA no Yorimichi converted Uji-den into a Buddhist temple in 1052. This was the origin of Byodo-in Temple. The Kaisan (first priest) was Myoson, grandson of ONO no Tofu and Chori (chief priest) of Onjo-ji Temple. At the time of its founding, the main hall stood near the bank of the Uji-gawa River, north of the Ho-o-do hall, and housed the principal image of Vairocana, but in 1053 the Amitabha hall (present Ho-o-do hall) was constructed as an earthly representation of the Western Pure Land Paradise.

In the latter part of the Heian period, the 'Third Age of Buddhism' theory became widely believed in Japan. This is the theory that Buddhism would decline, natural and man-made disasters would continue and the world would be plunged into chaos 2,000 years after Sakyamuni Buddha's passing into Nirvana (death). The thinking at the time of Byodo-in Temple's founding in 1052 coincided with the first year of the 'Third Age of Buddhism' and members of the noble classes prayed to be reborn in paradise and built numerous Buddha halls devoted to Western Pure Land Paradise overseer, Amitabha.

In addition to Byodo-in Temple, the Imperial family and nobility successively built many large temples in Kyoto during the latter part of the Heian period. In 1020, FUJIWARA no Michinaga constructed Muryoju-in Temple (later Hojo-ji Temple) and, from the second half of the 11th to the 12th century, first Hossho-ji was built at Emperor Shirakawa's order, and the so-called 'Six Superiority Temples' Sonsho-ji Temple, Saisho-ji Temple, Ensho-ji Temple, Seisho-ji Temple and Ensho-ji Temple were successively built in the area now known as Okazaki, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto City. However, not a trace remains of these once great temple complexes - a fact that makes Byodo-in Temple, established by Heian period nobles and with its surviving architecture, Buddhist imagery, wall paintings and gardens irreplaceable.

In addition to Ho-o-do hall, Byodo-in Temple once included the following buildings.

Hokke-do hall: Constructed by Yorimichi in 1056. It stood in the area where Byodo-in Museum now stands.

Two-storey pagoda: Constructed in 1061 by Yorimichi's daughter, FUJIWARA no Kanshi. Stood to the southeast of the Ho-o-do hall, by the Uji-gawa River.

Godai-do hall: Constructed in 1066 by the Udaijin (Minister of the Right), FUJIWARA no Morozane (third son of Yorimichi). Stood behind Ho-o-do hall, in the vicinity of Jodo-in Temple.

Fudo-do hall: Constructed in 1073 by the Udaijin (Minister of the Right), MINAMOTO no Morofusa (Yorimichi's adopted son). Stood to the southwest of Ho-o-do hall.

Beginning with a fire arising from the 1336 conflict between Masashige KUSUNOKI and the Ashikaga army, the above-mentioned buildings were all completely destroyed by numerous fires but the Ho-o-do hall has miraculously managed to avoid destruction.

Modern Byodo-in Temple
Byodo-in Temple is currently under the joint management of the Jodo Sect Jodo-in Temple and the Tendai Sect Saisho-in Temple (both located to the west of the Ho-o-do hall). Jodo-in Temple was founded between 1492-1501, Saisho-in Temple was founded in 1654 and it was in 1681 that Byodo-in Temple came to be jointly managed by both the Jodo and Tendai Sects following a ruling passed by the magistrate of shrines and temples.

Various projects including excavation of the gardens, restoration, and the computer graphical reproduction of the interior decoration of Ho-o-do hall have been taking place since the 1990s. In 2001, the 'Byodo-in Temple Ho-sho-kan' was opened to replace the previous 'Homotsu-kan' (treasure hall). Architect Akira KURYU received an award from the Japan Art Academy for the design of the Ho-sho-kan ('Shinkenchiku' 2001 September issue).

From 1996 to 1997, a 15-storey apartment block was constructed behind Byodo-in Temple and became the new backdrop to Ho-o-do hall. The scenic beauty of the area that had been kept since the time of the temple's founding was greatly damaged, which has led to debates regarding the strengthening of landscape regulating ordinance.

Temple Precinct

Ho-o-do Hall

Constructed in 1053. Stands facing east on an island in Ajino-ike Pond in the Pure Land style garden.
A total of four structures consisting of the central hall housing the principal image of Amitabha, the wing corridors on the left and right sides and the tail corridor have been designated National Treasures as 'Byodo-in Ho-o-do.'
The central hall is topped by a hip-and-gable roof and also features a pent roof enclosure. Opening the central door on the eastern side, the latticework in the bay has a circular window at the height of the principal image's head in order to allow the face of Amitabha to be worshipped from outside the building. It is believed that the Pure Land Paradise in which Amitabha resides lies in the west and, in order to reflect this, the building was constructed so that the statue of Amitabha can be seen on the opposite bank (a metaphor for nirvana) from pond's eastern bank (or the eastern bank of the Uji-gawa River that runs along the front of the temple). The roof of the central hall is crowned with two statues of Chinese Phoenixes (a mythical bird), but these are reproductions with the originals (National Treasures) being deposited elsewhere. The principal image of Amitabha statue (National Treasure) is the only authenticated extant piece by Buddhist sculptor Jocho. The statue's platform is adorned with mother-of-pearl inlay work and metal ornaments, the surrounding doors and walls are decorated by richly colored paintings, and the ceiling and pillars are also covered with colorful patterns. Relief carvings of Kuyo Bodhisattva playing instruments and dancing (currently 52) have been applied to the wall above the non-penetrating tie beams, and an elaborate openwork canopy is suspended over the principal image. The paintings are severely peeled, the colors on the pillars and ceiling have faded and the mother-of-pearl inlay work on the platform is damaged, but it is thought that, at the time of the temple's founding, the interior of the hall would have been a magnificent representation of how nobility imagined paradise to look.
The name 'Ho-o-do' (Phoenix Hall) dates from the Edo period, but the building was originally named 'Amitabha Hall' or simply 'Mido.'
Byodo-in Temple's Ho-o-do hall is displayed on the Japanese 10 yen coin and Bank of Japan notes feature the Chinese Phoenix statues that adorn the roof of Ho-o-do hall.

A Pure Land style garden centered around the Ajino-ike Pond within which Ho-o-do hall stands on an island. Excavations that have been taking place since 1990 have unearthed sand used in Heian period construction and maintenance is currently underway to restore the building to how it would have been at the time of its construction. The entrance to Ho-o-do hall is also being restored to the original crossing of two small bridges from the northern bank of the pond.

Kannon-do Hall

Stands on the left as the grounds are entered through the main gate in the north. It originally housed the principal image standing statue of the Eleven-headed Kannon (dating from the latter part of the Heian period), but this has since been relocated to the Ho-sho-kan.


This museum that stands in the south of the precinct was opened in 2001. Please refer to the article regarding the Byodo-in Temple Ho-sho-kan.

National Treasures

Ho-o-do hall

Please refer to the 'Garan (temple buildings)' section.

Wooden sitting statue of Amitabha

The only authenticated extant piece by Buddhist sculptor Jocho. The 284cm statue is assembled from separate pieces of wood and covered in lacquer and gold leaf. Jocho is a very well known Buddhist sculptor in the history of Japanese sculpture as a master of the 'wayo (Japanese)' sculpture style and the individual who perfected the 'yosegi (parquet)' technique. The elegant and gentle style exhibiting the contented face and the shallow flowing craftsmanship of the clothing at which Jocho excelled became known as 'the quintessential Buddhist style' and was highly praised among nobility, with the Jocho style becoming popular in later Buddhist statues. The works of Jocho that were kept at temples including Hojo-ji Temple (the temple constructed by FUJIWARA no Michinaga) have all been lost and the statue at Byodo-in Temple that he created in his last years is extremely valuable as the only extant piece that can be definitively verified as his work. Within the statue is a wooden board Amitabha-Shushi-Mandala and a wooden a lotus-shaped pedestal that have also been designated National Treasures along with the statue itself.

52 wooden images of Unchu Kuyo Bodhisattva

These relief carvings of bodhisattva have been applied to the wall above the non-penetrating tie beams within the central hall of the Ho-o-do hall. The 52 (including one designated in 2008) images depicting the bodhisattva that ride flying clouds as they accompany Amitabha to Earth have been designated National Treasures. Each carving is in a different posture, and there are 27 carvings with some playing instruments such as koto, biwa, end-blown flutes, transverse flutes, free-reed instruments, drums, hand drums ad small gongs, and others putting their hands together in prayer, holding banners or lotus flowers or dancing. The carvings mainly depict bodhisattva but there are five that depict Buddhist monks. As with the principal image of Amitabha, they are believed to have been created in 1053 but there have been numerous repairs with some having their heads repaired during the Meiji period and others having alterations made during the Kamakura period. Currently 52 remain but it is not known how many existed at the time of the building's construction. Of the 52, 26 have been relocated to the Ho-sho-kan.

14 Wall and Door Paintings of Ho-o-do Hall

The 10 door paintings and 4 wall paintings within the main hall are included as National Treasures along with the building itself but also have separate National Treasure designations as works of art. The main work is that entitled 'Kuhon Raigo-zu', based on the "Contemplation Sutra." The wall paintings are as follows.

Front middle door (2): Jobon Josho-zu
Front northern door (2): Jobon Chusho-zu
Front southern door (2): Jobon Gesho-zu
Northern door (2): Chubon Gesho-zu
Northern wall (1): Chubon Chusho-zu
Southern door (2): Gebon Josho-zu
Southern wall (1): Gebon Chusho-zu
Front of the wall behind the principal image (1): Image unclear (a likely theory claims it to depict Amitabha holding a service for the souls of the dead).
Back of the wall behind the principal image (1): Gebon Gesho-zu/Chubon Gesho-zu
Western (back face) door (2): Nissokan-zu
Of those above, the northern wall, southern wall and the wall behind the principal image (back face) were originally mud walls and the paintings were created after the Kamakura period. The door paintings remain from the time of the temple's founding but, the front middle doors were replaced when repairs were made in 1670 during the Edo period as these two pieces were the most severely worn and they are therefore given an 'additional designation' not included in the 14 pieces that have been designated National Treasures. Other images are severely peeled and display conspicuous graffiti dating from the end of the Edo period, but they remain valuable remnants of late-Heian period-Kamakura period artwork. The original doors from the front, north and south have been removed, deposited in the 'Homotsu-kan' (treasure hall) and replaced by replicas.

Wooden Canopy

The wooden canopy that is suspended above the head of the main statue of Amitabha has been designated a National Treasure as a carving separately from the statue. Composed of the outer coved, coffered, finely latticed ceiling and the dome-shaped inner layer suspended within, and decorated with openwork and mother-of-pearl inlay work.

Pair of Gold-Bronze Chinese Phoenixes

These originally crowned the roof of the Ho-o-do hall but are now stored within the Ho-sho-kan (the ones on the roof are replicas). They stand at approximately 2.3m tall and have been exquisitely crafted from beak to tail. They are designated National Treasures as crafts.


As with the Ho-o-do hall, it is estimated to have been cast in the 11th century. This entire surface of this unique bell is adorned with intricate carvings depicting imagery such as heavenly beings, lions and arabesque patterns. The bell is celebrated for its form, and is counted among 'the top three bells' in the country along with that of Jingo-ji Temple celebrated for its inscriptions and that of Onjo-ji Temple (Mii-dera Temple) celebrated for its sound. The bell currently in the belfry is a replica, with the original being kept at the Ho-sho-kan. The belfry was used on the design for the 60-yen postage stamp issued on November 25th, 1980 (could still be used as of 2006 but no longer sold since 2002).

Important Cultural Properties

Kannon-do Hall

Wooden standing statue of the Eleven-headed Kannon

Yorinan Shoin study room: At Jodo-in Temple that stands within the temple precinct. Not open to the public.

Historic Site/Place of Scenic Beauty

Byodo-in Temple Gardens (Designated a Historic Site/Place of Scenic Beauty on March 8, 1922)


10 minutes walk to the east from 'Uji station (West JR)' on the West Japan Railway Company Nara Line
10 minutes walk from 'Uji station (Keihan)' on the Keihan Electric Railway Keihan Uji Line

[Original Japanese]