Wednesday, 13 May 2009

a day out to Uji: Byodo-in Temple

Byodo-in Temple, Uji, Kyoto Pref.

I visited Byodo-in(平等院) temple and Fushimi-Inari Shrine(伏見稲荷) with friends.

Byodo-in is in Uji(宇治), about 15 minutes south of Kyoto by JR train from Kyoto Station.

Uji is one of the main tea producing areas in Japan though it isn’t always recognized as such elsewhere in Japan. Indeed it might be the oldest active tea producing area in the country, it goes back to the Kamakura period(1185-1333). It’s easy to imagine how prosperous the business was in the past judging by the size of the many old tea merchant houses remaining today.

The photo shows the Kanbayashi(上林) residence, one of the oldest tea merchant family homes, which is now open to public as a museum.

The area’s main attraction is Byodo-in temple which was designated as a World National Heritage Site in 1994. Since then the number of visitors dramatically increased, it is rather a pity that it has lost its layed-back atmosphere as a temple in the country. At the same time my local pride is pleased with the appreciation of its value.

Byodo-in’s Phoenix Hall(鳳凰堂) is one of only a few surviving examples of Heian period (794-1185) architecture. Most of the period’s structures have been lost to fire or war. It is a fine example from the era. The hall is praised for its symmetrical beauty and can be seen on the tail of 10 yen coins.

In the past visitors could casually walk in the hall, but now we must be guided in groups of 50 people, so inside is always full. There’s good side to it, we can benefit from the guides knowledge which helps us appreciate its value. –Unfortunately guided tours are only in Japanese.

Where the old treasure house stood The Byodo-in Museum(平等院鳳翔館) was built in 2001. Architect Akira Kuryu(栗生明) won an award for its design. It is a very modern but discreet building and doesn’t distract from the view of the temple.

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