This temple was converted from a Fujiwara villa into a Buddhist temple in 1052. The "Phoenix Hall" (Houou-do), more properly known as the Amida-do, was built in 1053 and is the only original building remaining.
The main hall of Byodo-in Temple was built to emulate Buddha's palace in paradise, and the temple is indeed otherworldly. Its graceful lines and warm colors give the building the appearance of a majestic bird spreading its wings. It is popularly known as the "Phoenix Hall," and when seen with its reflection on the large pond in front, it almost appears to be gliding above the earth. This view is one of the most famous scenes in Japan, and is replicated on back of the 10 yen coin.
Inside, the temple houses a statue of Amida Buddha, whose face catches the light of the morning sun. Surrounding him are graceful depictions of Boddhisattvas in a variety of poses, playing instruments or reading sutras. There is a lively quality to these smaller statues, which creates a fine contrast to the serenity of Amida. All are said to be the work of the priest and master sculptor, Jocho.
Other treasures of Byodo-in can be found in the Hosho-kan Museum (9:00-17:00), including the original temple bell, door paintings, and twin phoenix roof ornaments.
The temple dates from the 11th century, and began its life as a villa for the Fujiwara clan, regents to the Imperial throne. It is one of the few surviving examples of Heian Period (794-1185) architecture. Allow yourself about an hour to wander through the grounds and soak up the atmosphere. The approach to the temple is lined with souvenir shops, many of which serve local tea outside. A small packet of this tea is popular as a souvenir or gift.