Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Phoenix Hall at Byodoin Temple in Uji is the very image of Buddhist heaven.

HŌ-Ō-DŌ, Phoenix Hall - the Finest Temple of the Fujiwara clan.

The Hō-ō-dō or Phoenix Hall is the main temple of the Byodoin monastery. It is located in Uji which is south of Kyoto. Uji is famous for its green tea, rich history and association with Japan’s first novel, the Tales of Genji.

Phoenix Hall was originally a country palace for the Fujiwara clan. It was converted to a temple by Yorimichi Fujiwara to enshrine the Buddha Amida. Everything inside the Byodoin is the finest among the mid Heian era's architecture and art, and graceful as a Zuicho (bird of luck).

Originally the building was in the style of shinden-zukuri. Shinden-zukuri was the architectural style of Japanese nobility’s residences. Its main apartment called shinden or bed chamber faced south to bring in sunlight and opened on the pond of a beautiful garden. Shinden-zukuri is landscape architecture. It is bringing landscape “into” the living area.

Byodoin Temple was established by Kapaku (chief advisor to the Emperor) Fujiwara Yorimichi in 1052. Phoenix Hall was constructed the following year (1053) as the Amidabha Hall (national treasure) to enshrine a stature of Amitabha Tathagata (also a national treasure). The garden, a Pure Land (Jodo) style (borrowed landscape) garden, has been designated a historic site and a place of scenic beauty. The Suhama (sandy beach), the Hirabashi (flat bridge), the Soribashi (arched bridge), and the Kojima (small island) surround Phoenix Hall.

Byodoin houses numerous cultural assets from the Heian Period: Yamato-e style paintings depicting Amida’s nine grades of descent, the Buddhist Temple Bell, and the pair of Phoenix’s – all national treasures. Of special interest are the 52 statures of Worshiping Bodhisattvas on clouds. These gracefully carved national treasures, the only existing group of Buddhist statues from the 11th century, float on clouds while dancing or playing various musical instruments.

Byodoin was built in order to create a Land of Happiness, in a scenic spot along the river facing the Asahi-yama mountain. The palace features unique architecture which consists of the Chudo (central hall), left and right wing corridors and a tall corridor (the body and wings of the Phoenix). Inside, there is a collection of Pure Land (Jodo) Buddhism sect art from the Heian Period, including a seated statue of Amitabha Tathagata, the only existing Buddhist image confirmed to have been made by Jocho, a sculptor representative of the Heian Period. Phoenix Hall is also home to wall and door paintings depicting Aminda’s nine grades of descent. At present, 26 statues of Worshiping Bodhisattvas on clouds are on display at the Hoshoken museum.

The land of happiness is the place where a person goes in the after-life. Images of the Heian era feature drawings of the land of happiness, with Amida in the middle of a palace style temple with a pond in front. The Jodo style garden was created with this concept. Japanese nobility had power and money at this time so they could build the temple of their dreams in hope of residing there in the after-life. The Jodo sect had a simple teaching, “If you pray to Namuamidabutsu, your life will be renewed in the Land of Happiness.”

On display inside the temple museum is the temple bell. This bell, referred to as the sugata no byodoin, was regarded as one of the three most prized temple bells in Japan during the ancient period. This bell is famous for conveying a sense of serenity to the viewer.

Japanese temple bells traditionally include the following four features: a ryûzu, or dragon head sculpture that sits atop of the bell; a tsukiza, or round site at which the bell is struck to produce the best sound; an obi, or decorative sash connecting the ryûzu and tsukiza; and a series of ma, or square, flat surfaces decorated with carvings.

This temple bell is distinguished by the fact that the ryûzu or dragonhead, and the tsukiza, or striking site, are both oriented in the same direction. In addition, every surface of this bell is covered with dense carvings, with the exception of the symmetrical raised dots on the upper portion of the bell. These dots are referred to as chi in Japanese, or nipples.

The patterns on this bell are considered to strike a particularly good balance. If you look closely at the vertical decorations on the bell, you will see a series of representations of phoenixes and heavenly beings playing musical instruments interspersed with lotus-flower and arabesque motifs. Also, on the top row of horizontal decorations is made up of a series of interconnected dragons, which are carved in tiny and meticulous detail.

This is the only bell in Japan to contain such a density of carvings, a feature which is said to resemble ancient Korean bells. At the same time, this bell also contains elements of structural design which are unique to Heian and Kamakura Period temple bells.

Byodoin Temple has been featured on Japanese currency (10 yen coin) since 1951.

Byodoin Temple
116 Ujirenge Uji-shi, Kyoto Prefecture 611-0021Japan
Telephone: +81 (0) 774 212861
Fax: +81 (0) 774 206607
Temple Site in Japanese

Uji is located between Kyoto and Nara, 16 minutes from JR Kyoto Station and 32 minutes from JR Nara Station via express train. 
Using the JR Nara Line, get off at Uji Station and walk 10 minutes east.
Using the Keihan Uji Line, get off at Keihan Uji Station and walk 10 minutes.

Twin Phoenix's (how the temple got the name)


Temple Grounds

Temple, flat bridge and arched bridge

Temple Bell Replica (original inside museum)

National Treasure

From the 11th Century

National Treasure

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Dogo Onsen Area - Matsuyama

The onsen area of Matsuyama is touristy but it's Japanese touristy so it is a fun place to walk around and visit. During special times of the year there are celebrations outside Dogo Onsen featuring drums, song and dance, if you are lucky enough to stumble upon them!
Pilgrims making their visit

The famous Botchan train

You are here

Famous animated clock

Great looking little car

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mitsukoshi Department Store - Matsuyama

There are 2 great department stores in Matsuyama and they are virtually across the street from each other. Mitsukoshi is well worth the visit just to walk around.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Hayaku: A Time Lapse Journey Through Japan

Some of the locations include Tokyo, Matsuyama, Imabari, Nagano, Gifu, and Ishizushisan.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Shofuku-ji Temple, Hakata - Japan's first Zen Temple

When you visit Shofuku-ji Temple, located in Hakata, you take a walk back in time to visit Japan’s first Zen temple. Shofuku-ji is a Rinzai Temple (Rinzai focuses on the enlightenment of consciousness). It was founded by the priest Eisai with support from the Samurai Lord Minamoto no Yoritomo in 1195.

The temple brings Zen philosophy into the layout and aesthetics of the grounds, temple layout, building design and building functions. Main halls for special ceremonies are principles of Zen. The grounds are laid out in the philosophy of Zen Buddhism to bring enlightenment to those who visit. A Zen temple is unlike temples before the Kamakura period. The buildings and grounds are not symmetrical in how they are laid out.

To walk the grounds is to experience the origins of Zen influence in Japan. There are clear lines and also buildings that appear as you pass a corner. Other Zen characteristics are subtly curved pent roofs (mokoshi) and curved main roofs, cusped windows (katomado) and paneled doors. There is no temple pagoda. Pagoda’s are not a feature Zen influence. 

The buildings are a home to important artifacts which include the effects of the priest and artist, Sengai, an ancient korai bell from Korea, a votive table presented to the temple by Emperor Gotoba during the Kamakura period. There are special exhibitions of the temples artifacts held at the Fukuoka City Museum during periods of the year. Check the temple website for dates. During our visit in 2012 several of the buildings were undergoing restoration. The temple was severely damaged during WWII and as a result the grounds have been consolidated from their original extent.

Eisai (1141 to 1215) was born in Bitchu (present day Okayama Prefecture). Trained in the teachings of Tendai Buddhism, Eisai grew dissatisfied with what he saw as the weakening of Buddhism in Japan. Eisai traveled to China in 1168 on his first trip to Mount Tiantai. While there for six months, Eisai was introduced to the basic teachings of Chan (Zen) Chinese Buddhism.

Zen is derived from the school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China in the 6th century, known as Chan. Zen is the process of achieving enlightenment through the disciple's perception of Buddhist teachings with guidance and instruction with a teacher.

Eisai would return to China in 1187. During that time Eisai served under Chan master Xuan Huaichang, of the Linji (Rinzai) school. This was at the Jingde Si monastery. Upon his return to Japan in 1191, Eisai landed at Hirado in Nagasaki with Zen scriptures and tea plant seeds. This is purported as being the introduction of tea to Japan.

The temple was built with the support of Minamoto no Yoritomo. Yoritomo was the third son of Minamoto no Yoshitomo, heir to the Minamoto (Seiwa Genji) family. Yoshitomo’s wife, Hojo Masako, was a member of the Fujiwara clan. After the passing of Yoritomo, Hojo Masako would later support Eisai building Jufuku-ji, the first Zen temple in Kamakura.

After Eisai returned to Japan, he slowly set about establishing the new religion. He did that not by renouncing the Tendai faith but by leaving Kyoto to travel to Kamakura in 1199. There the Shogun and the newly established Samurai welcomed the teachings of Eisai. 

Eisai remained a Tendai monk and practiced Tendai teachings until his passing in 1215 at the age of 74. Although Eisai is credited with bringing the Rinzai sect to Japan, it was later teachers who would establish a pure school of Japanese Zen free from the mixtures of teachings from other schools of thought.
6-1 Gokuso-machi
Tel: 092-291-0775

Temple Sanmon Gate

Butsoden Hall during restoration

Zen influence is everywhere

Restoration work

Zen temple grounds

Bell tower

Zen influence

Buddhist monk Eisai as Buddha standing on the lotus

Temple grounds were affected by allied bombing during WWII


Samurai Lord Minamoto no Yoritomo