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Byodo-In Temple is one of those places that will calm your heart and lift the anxiety from your shoulders. The temperature drops and the cool air you inhale feels cold in your lungs. The playful breeze curls through your hair as you near the entrance pathway. You’ll hear that low, echoing hum of the sacred bell long before you see it in the corner off to your left. As the temple reveals itself, you realize it isn’t just the temple that’s starkly beautiful. It’s the backdrop of the emerald green Koolau mountains and bright blue Oahu sky that makes this peaceful oasis so profound.
May peace follow you.
There are plenty of circle-island tours where a guide will escort and spend the whole day with you as you explore the outskirts of Oahu on the opposite end of Waikiki. Here are a few that will also take you to Byodo-In Temple.
This Byodo-In Temple Is Actually A Replica…And Both Are Gorgeous!
I used to live in Japan and my first year was as a foreign exchange student in Osaka in Hirakata City. Every week I’d hang out with my Japanese friends, and although much of that first year was spent shopping at malls, eating at new restaurants, and singing karaoke all night (as young kids do), we also spent a lot of time sightseeing. I was extremely lucky to have new friends who would take me to shrines, temples, festivals and museums and we’d communicate in our broken English and Japanese.
Byodo-In Temple in Japan holds a special place in my sentimental heart. As my year of study was coming to an end, my friends and I decided to squeeze in one last temple visit before my return to the USA.
It turns out they decided on Byodo-In Temple in Uji City, which I hadn’t gone to before since it isn’t located in “downtown Kyoto”. But it was famous because I had seen it almost everyday while in Japan on the back of my 10 yen coins. In fact, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
I still remember exactly what I thought when I first saw Byodo-In Temple in Japan.
I’m serious. Its beauty froze me for a moment and I’m pretty sure my steps faltered. Up until that moment, I had already seen plenty of shrines and temples – most were world-famous like the Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) and some were way out in the countryside in my friends’ hometowns. All were beautiful in their own way.
Byodo-In Temple in Japan, however, exceeded this. Maybe it was a combination of that perfect sky and amazingly precise reflection upon the water. But for me, it remains my favorite temple in Japan. And when I found out Hawaii had it’s very own replica?
I was ecstatic!
Hawaii’s Byodo-In Temple is about half the size of the original and only about 50 years old, but it’s more than good enough for me. That amazing reflection is still there and the green, green Koolau mountains in the back only add to this temple’s beauty.
A common question that’s asked is “why is there a replica here?” This is the exact same question I had when my Japanese friends told me there was a replica right on my home island. Apparently, this Byodo-In Temple replica was built on June 7, 1968 and commemorated the 100-year anniversary of Hawaii’s first Japanese immigrants.
August 4, 2018 will mark the 50th anniversary of Hawaii’s Byodo-In Temple and they’ve got some big events planned for their Obon festival. Check out the festivities on their site.
Drive Through The Cemetery
Byodo-In Temple is located near the back of the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park. The park is right across of Koolau Center, a small shopping area with a few restaurants and stores. It makes for a good pit stop if you’re out driving around Oahu on a self tour (the McDonald’s restrooms are a great reason to take a break). Entrance into the park is free and you’re welcome to visit any friends or family who have been laid to rest.
The Trousdale Memorial Chapel will be the first building you’ll see, but you can certainly drive around the 240-acre park to explore the different viewpoints. There is an attendant in the middle of the road, but just let them know that you plan to visit Byodo-In Temple and you should be waved on quickly.
And if you forget the way, don’t worry. There are Byodo-In Temple signs that will point you in the right direction.
I was actually a bit unsure my first time here. It’s a memorial, right? So, I expected everyone I met here to be rather serious. But as soon as I pulled up, the attendant had this huge smile on his face and explained the Byodo-In Temple’s directions with the happiest personality ever!
The road here is wide, clean and beautifully lined with palm trees. The dewy grass rolls out away from you for what seems like forever.
There are several different types of graves. Hawaii has a huge Hawaiian and Japanese influence so the different graves and mausoleums are often tied to cultural traditions. Since this is a mortuary, please be respectful of the area and avoid making too much noise. If you see large tour buses or shuttles driving around, you may want to follow them as they know where to stop, park and show their customers a great view.
I did exactly this and was able to get some gorgeous photos of the entire area and some great landscape shots. Plus, you really can’t beat that in-your-face view of the Koolau mountains.
Don’t expect this to be a creepy/strange/weird experience. Even though it’s a cemetery, the feeling you get while driving or walking through is rather one of respect and tranquility. The entire area is extremely clean and well taken care of.
Most of the traffic will head toward Byodo-In Temple and you’ll see the parking lot first. It’s not huge, but the lot stretches far out toward the back. As with most attractions, I prefer getting here in the morning to beat the tour buses.
There is a small ticketing booth before you get to the bridge pathway. General admission is $5, but there are discounts for large groups booked in advance, children and seniors.
There are also a couple of spots for handicap parking, so take advantage of those if you need to. In general, it’s pretty easy for anyone physically disabled to get around. There are a few shallow steps on the pathway, but they’re all in the back of Byodo-In Temple such as near the meditation pavilion.
It’s just a short 1 minute walk from the parking lot to the main pathway, which will lead you all around the temple. The only other major obstacle would be the gravel pathways. These can make it difficult for wheelchairs to get around, but it isn’t impossible. The gravel doesn’t run deep. Instead, it’s scattered just enough to cover the hard ground underneath. I can see electronic wheelchairs having no problem and manual wheelchairs requiring just a little more muscle than usual.
Entering The Grounds
The first sight you’ll see is the center of Byodo-In Temple. And remember, it’s only half the size of the original! More reason for you to see the real one in Japan.
Pay close attention to the surrounding plants, trees and shrubs. There are some pretty interesting greenery and the last time I was there I saw these beautiful cigar flowers ready to be picked and made into a fresh flower lei. I also saw some blooming water lilies, red ginger and even a couple of small waterfalls that add to the ambiance of the natural quite you’ll find here.
After crossing the bridge, to your left you’ll see the sacred bell (bonsho). This particular bell was made in Osaka, Japan and many visitors will ring this bell by swinging the wooden log (shumoku). There’s a sign that explains that it’s customary to ring the bell before entering the temple for 2 reasons: your happiness and to spread the teachings of Buddha.
The low echo of the bell rang several times while I was there (as you can guess, it’s a crowd pleaser), but the sound is unobtrusive and actually pleasant and comforting.
Children are welcome to try their hand at “ringing” the bell and it’s a neat experience since I’ve never seen temple visitors ringing these huge bells in Japan, only the priests.
From the sacred bell, turn around and walk the path around to the middle and side of the lake. You may see the Japanese koi gathering around the edge of the pond with a frantic fervor – don’t worry. What they’re really hoping for is a tasty treat.
You can purchase fish food (which also turns out to be bird food) at the souvenir shop. The shop is actually a separate building called the tea house and it’s a lovely place for really unique souvenirs.
Byodo-In Temple also hosts local vendors and artists that share their work with the public. This is an awesome way to get some made-in-Hawaii souvenirs. Check out the temple’s site if you’re interested in finding out which vendor you’ll see on your visit.
Keep a look out for the resident peacocks! They like to walk around the grounds and sometimes you can hear them off in the distance. They may even be on Byodo-In Temple!
I love the Byodo-In Temple pathways.
They’re simple, clean and surrounded by lush trees, grass and shrubs. While you may feel like you’re in a forest, don’t expect it to be humid and warm like your average Hawaii hike. This part of the island is slightly cooler and enjoys plenty of rain that keeps the temperature low and everything looking fresh and green.
As you make your way around Byodo-In Temple by following the pond, you’ll get a side perspective of the architecture and a neat view at how they integrate the building and water.
I saw plenty of turtles sunning themselves on the rocks and banks and frogs would jump and scatter as soon as I came too close for comfort.
Besides the reptiles, amphibians, peacocks and koi that call Byodo-In Temple home, there are also a couple of black swans that will pretty much ignore you unless you have food. Once you have food in hand, they’ll start to eye you out as they wade, waddle and wiggle back and forth.
This side perspective is also great for viewing the roof up close. Physically, you’ll be a tad closer to the architecture and you can get some amazing shots of the reds, yellows and grey roof tiles.
While you’re studying the tiles, don’t miss the 2 phoenixes! When you hear about Byodo-In, you’ll also often hear about the Phoenix Hall, which the original Byodo-In Temple in Japan is famous for. Before it was a temple, Byodo-In was actually a country vacation home for Fujiwara Michinaga – an extremely powerful politician whose family pretty much ruled Japan while he was alive.
Byodo-In the “staycation” home turned into a temple by order of Fujiwara’s son, who also ordered the 2 phoenixes to be built at this time. Byodo-In Temple in Japan has been rebuilt several times in different areas due to fires, but the Phoenix Hall still remains intact in it’s original architecture. So to have a replica in Hawaii, is a pretty big thing!
The Buddha And Decor
Walking into the temple you’ll see the Amida Buddha which stands over 9 feet, and according to the Byodo-In Temple staff in Hawaii, may be the world’s largest buddha outside of Japan. If you can, try to spot all 52 of the small Boddhisattvas that surround the Amida Buddha.
Just like in Japan, be sure to remove your shoes when you enter the temple. There’s a proper area and signs that will tell you what to do so just follow the directions and you’ll be good to go.
What I really find unique about the Byodo-In Temple that despite this being a temple for Buddhism, anyone is welcome here. The temple does not practice Buddhism so all manners of faith, believers and/or non-believers are welcome and encouraged to enjoy this beautiful and tranquil area at the base of the Koolau mountains.
In my opinion, one of the best places to “hang out” is at the Meditation Pavilion near the back of Byodo-In Temple. It’s such a peaceful spot that’s slightly removed from the bulk of the tourist crowd. Feel free to sit down and enjoy the view and plants that surround you.
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