February 17, 2006
by Akiko Kagawa; Fumiaki Kai
If you are interested in Japan, you may want to find out more about Byodoin. Have you ever looked closely at the Japanese 10 yen coin? Almost all countries have coins that depict something of their life and culture. In Japan, an image of Byodoin is stamped on the 10 yen coin.
This building is famous as a world heritage site, so we would like to introduce here the five main buildings that make up the complex.
Houdo is the main building in the center of Byodoin, and is surrounded by a body of water named Aji Pond. It was built at the end of the Heian era (794 – 1185) by Fujiwara Yorimichi (a very famous person in Japan) as the Amida Buddha Hall. The most outstanding feature is how it is situated like a palace, seemingly floating on a magical carpet of water. “Houdo” means phoenix, and the reason for this is that the outline of the building itself resembles a bird resting on water. It appears especially beautiful when its image is reflected on the surface of the surrounding pond. In the main building there are many Amitabha Buddha statues. However, like the ceiling and walls which were painted to a special design, time has managed to fade some of the original glory. In the middle of this building, there is a large temple bell called Bonsyo. This impressive piece was once located south of Houdo, but was moved into the center at some point. You can see it in Byodoin Houshoukan which we will introduce next.
On March 1st, 2001, Byodoin unveiled a new museum named Hoshokan, to house the many precious treasures the temple has to offer. This building was devised especially to make use of optical fiber lighting, and through the balanced combination of nature and space one can best appreciate the artwork on offer.
By employing the largest glass wall in Japan, the designers have created a tremendous feeling of space for the viewer. Also, with the use of computer graphics technology, the visitor can experience a visit to the interior areas of Byodoin which remain off-limits to the public. This virtual tour takes 50 minutes, so if you haven’t run out of time we suggest you try it.
Site space: 30600 square
Building space: 816.04 square
Floor space: 2249.42 square
This building was erected in the late 15th century while Byodoin was under repair, and stands to the north of Houdo. There are some additional treasures here, such as wall pictures and statues of Buddha.
This building was built in 1654, so it is not as old as the others. Originally intended as housing for priests, it gradually came to be known as Saishoin.
The Area Around Byodoin
This area is considered to be of great historical importance, and there are many temples and shrines in the vicinity of Byodoin.
This is another designated world heritage site, and around 10 minutes walk from Uji Station. This shrine, built in 901, is neither very famous nor fancy looking but was very important to the people who lived in the area at that time. It was built before Byodoin, because the people constructing Byodoin needed a place to rest and stay. Therefore, this shrine doubled as a hotel and also a place to worship.
You can get a real feel for the seasons in this temple because Mimuroto Temple has an abundance of flowers, so whenever you go there, you will find flowers blooming according to the season.
There is a very interesting statue located here called “Houshougyu”, which is actually a statue of a cow. The legend goes that long ago, a local man had many problems because he was the owner of very weak cattle. This man paid homage to the Goddess of Mercy in this shrine to change his situation. One day, this Goddess acted on his wishes and made his cattle so strong that he won local competitions with them. Now it is said that if you touch the ball the statue of the cow is biting, you too can gain the luck you need to win. So when you want to beat somebody or win something, it is a good idea to go there.
In Uji River, there is a sandbank, and this Jusanjunoto, or pagoda, is built on it. When you look at pictures about Japan, you will usually see pagodas of three or five storeys. However, this pagoda has thirteen storeys, making it the one with the most storeys in Japan. Due to flooding, this pagoda has been leveled many times, with the longest time being submerged, 150 years. There are no floods nowadays though, so this tower stands proud for everyone to see.