2018 is a big year for Japanese Americans living in Hawaii. 150 years ago, the very first Japanese laborers moved to Hawaii and ever since, Japan and Hawaii have had a strong tie. Today, many Japanese people dream of going to Hawaii to see the breath-taking beauty of the islands, especially for their honeymoon. However, Hawaii is more than its beautiful beaches. It has a rich culture and history, and those Japanese immigrants also became part of the fabric of Hawaii. For this reason, there are several temples and shrines throughout the islands. One such example is Oahu’s Byodo-in Temple.
What is the Byodo-in Temple?
Japan’s iconic Byodo-in Temple in Uji, Kyoto is one of the country’s most culturally significant temples.
History and Spirituality
The original Byodo-in Temple was built by Japanese aristocrats over 1,000 years ago and during those 1,000 years, Uji saw its fair share of war. While the fire of war destroyed many other temples built around the same time, parts of the temple persevere to this day. The surviving architecture alone holds a considerable amount of cultural value, but the significance of the temple goes even deeper.
The most important building at Byodo-in Temple still stands to this day, the Phoenix Hall.
The Phoenix Hall was built just right around the time called Mappo. During this time, Japanese people believed Buddha’s teaching would fade away, thus preventing them from going to heaven. Japanese aristocrats painstakingly sculpted the Phoenix Hall and the gardens around it, to resemble Buddhist heaven, in hopes of keeping it close to them. In this way, the Byodo-in Temple and its Phoenix Hall played a part in preserving Japan’s spirituality.
See our post on Byodo-in Temple Uji!
The “byodo” of Byodo-in means “equality” connoting that the teachings of the Buddha are equally beneficial to people of all walks of life. The presence of Hawaii’s Byodo-in Temple however, is not limited to the teachings of Buddha. It also invokes the very spirit of “equality”, as Japanese people in Hawaii struggled to obtain equality; from the very first laborers all the way through WWII.
Byodo-in Temple in Oahu
Byodo-in Temple is a bit away from the city center and even though it is a popular tourist spot, it feels noticeably tranquil.
If you think that since this temple is only a replica of the one in Uji, it isn’t at all accurate, you are very mistaken! Though it is noticeably smaller than the one in Uji, Hawaii’s Byodo-in pays careful attention even the minor details of the original’s construction. I think also think it complements the Kolau Mountain Chain behind of it, creating an almost mystic atmosphere.
They even have a replica of the famous bonsho or temple bell. While Japanese temples always have bells, most of the time the temple does not allow people to ring them. Here however, you are free to do so. I guess you can ring it whenever you like, I felt I should do so before visiting the main hall, as it is the custom in Japanese temples!
One of the biggest differences I noticed between the two temples is that the main hall of the one in Oahu is made from concrete, not wood. I guess the extra humidity would be harder on the wood here? Even so, the architecture of the main hall is on point with its counterpart.
Once you step in the main hall, you will see the 3 meter tall statue of Amida Nyorai–just a bit smaller than the one in Uji. All temples in Japan have Buddha statues as main object of worship, and here in Byodo-in Temple, Amida Nyorai is the one.
Why he is so important? Remember, the builders of the original Byodo-in Temple feared the Buddhist end of days (Mappo). Amida Nyorai is the savior at the end of the world, and it is Amida Nyorai who guides people to the heaven.
Hawaii’s Byodo-in Temple too us by complete surprise! It was so interesting to visit, not just a Japanese temple, but a replica of such a very famous Japanese temple. We were glad to see such careful attention to detail all through out the temple and if you are ever in Oahu, we strongly recommend stopping by!