South of Kyoto in Uji, this temple was originally the villa of a 10th-century member of the influential Fujiwara family. The Amida-do is also known as the Phoenix Hall, thanks to its two protruding wings that make the building resemble the legendary bird. If the hall looks familiar, it's because it's depicted on the ¥10 coin. Built in the 11th century by the Fujiwaras, the Amida-do is considered one of Japan's most beautiful religious buildings—something of an architectural folly—where heaven is brought close to Earth. Jocho, one of Japan's most famous 11th-century sculptors, crafted a magnificent statue of Amida Buddha here; his hand mudra indicates that the Buddha rests in the highest of the nine paradises. The Aji Pond in front symbolizes the lotus lake of Amida's paradise. In the highly impressive museum you can see 52 small wooden kuyo or reverent bosatsu (enlightened beings) floating on clouds, playing celestial music.
Uji is a famous tea-producing
district, and the slope up to the temple is lined with shops where you can sample the finest green tea and pick up a small package to take home. It's possible to set up a visit to a tea farm through the Kyoto Tourist Information Center. The Uji-gami shrine (also a World Heritage Site) and temples surrounding the Uji River are also pleasant to explore. To get to Uji, take the JR Nara Line to Uji Station. Byodo-in is a 12-minute walk east toward the river from the station.
116 Ujirenge, Uji-shi, 611-0021, Japan