The Fenghuang or Chinese phoenix, overlooking the famous "Phoenix Hall" at Byodo-in temple in Kyoto.
Byodo-in is considered a fine example of aristocratic art of the Heian period (794-1185).
The central hall of the Temple Byodo-in (Kyoto), before its renovation.
Wings of Desire
A Unesco World Heritage site, this temple is considered the height of expression of the aristocratic art of the Heian period (794-1185).
On the southern route to Kyoto, Uji City, famous for its tea production, is home to the famous Byodo-in Temple, part of the Jodo sect of Buddhism, dedicated to the worship of Amida, the cosmic Buddha of "Infinite Light."
Built in 1053 on a small island sitting on a pond, the main building is called "Phoenix Hall" or houdou, because its architectural form with two wings evokes the flight of the legendary animal. Furthermore, two of these birds, sculpted in bronze, perch upon the rooftop. Its most remarkable feature, however, is a colossal statue made of wood.
Attributed to the monk and master artist Jocho (who died in 1057), it represents the Amida Buddha in the company of Bodhisattva (being promised enlightenment). Located inside the main building, visits are done in small groups.
Large tarps covered Byodo-in between September 2012 and April 2014, as Phoenix Hall was renovated in bright vermilion, and the two phoenix statues were reborn from their ashes with new metallic sheen before the site was reopened to the public.
Learn more: Buddhism in Japan
Heaven on earth
Originally, Byodo-in was a villa meant for the regent Fujiwara no Michinaga (966-1027). His son, Yorimichi, transformed the residence into a temple originally held by the esoteric Tendai sect of Buddhism. A garden and a pond, originally larger than they are today, were built for boat rides. Since the Amidist sect invested in Byodo-in, they aimed to recreate the Buddhist Pure Land Paradise. Byodo-in is a testimony to both the faith and lifestyle of the nobility of an era during which the deity was humanized as compassionate and merciful.
At the other end of the park, contemporary arrangement of the museum, built in 2000 and designed by architect Akira Kuryu (b. 1947), showcases the treasures of the site whose bodhisattva musicians look like the cherubs from Christian imagery. A pure delight.