The Beauty and Serenity of the Byodo-in Temple in Oahu
Sun-kissed beaches and swaying palm trees are usually our images of Hawaii. But, sometimes we also happily welcome a change in scenery. We just came back from Oahu after spending a short and sweet visit with local family and friends there. We’ve been to Oahu several times but finally made it to the picturesque Byodo-In Temple which is one of the island’s most beautiful attractions but not always listed in tourist brochures.
Byodo-In Temple is located on the eastern part of the island in the Kaneohe region away from the resorts and most tourist spots. Set in the foothills of the the 2,000 foot Koʻolau Mountains and at the back of the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, it almost felt a world away from the tourist lights of Honolulu.
We passed through the expansive Valley of the Temples Memorial Park with various sections for each religion. At the back of the cemetery, the lovely temple greeted us where we almost felt like we got transported to Asia. We were glad there weren’t that many people here during our Sunday afternoon visit.
The grounds were stunning and often used for wedding ceremonies and photo shoots. It was easy to see why with this beautifully landscaped backdrop.
The temple was built here in 1968 to commemorate the 100-year-anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in the Hawaiian Islands. It was also built as a tribute to the Japanese people in Hawaii.
This version is a smaller replica of the original 950-year-old Byodo-in Temple in Uji, Japan.
A large reflecting pond surrounds the temple. It is in the shape of the Chinese character shin or kokoro meaning spirit. The pond meanders through the paths where black swans, turtle, fish and frogs co-exist. Every part of the water we saw was filled with colorful koi fish also known as carp. They can live to be over 100 years old and symbolize “love, power, perseverance and longevity”.
These had to be some of the biggest koi we’ve ever seen and there were so many of them. Bird and fish food were sold at the gift shop for $1 per bag. My kids were more than happy to feed and see all the fish clamor for food. There certainly weren’t going hungry with all the visitors feeding them.
The temple is open to all faiths to visit, worship or meditate as a non-practicing Buddhist temple. It is called the Hoodo or Hall of the Chinese Phoenix due to a floor plan that resembles a bird. We saw the two birds of good omen perched on both ends of the roof looking ready to take off.
Inside the main structure is the stunning Amida (the Buddha of the Western Paradise). Weighing two-ton and at over 9 feet tall, this seated, golden Buddha was an imposing figure. The Buddha was said to represent “infinite life and light surrounding all beings.” The Buddha is surrounded by 52 small sculptures that are supposed o be “enlightened beings” dancing and playing instruments while floating on clouds.
Since the local Buddhist population still use this as a place of worship, removing our shoes before entering was a mandated sign of respect. We only saw one woman inside paying her respects here and lighting an incense.
I loved seeing all the little niches of tranquility, water and nature intertwined with the temple structures.
While the whole area was a perfect setting for meditations, there was also a meditation pavilion located up the hill behind the Temple. It was a wonderful place to relax and admire the view and scenery alongside a small bubbling brook.
Another favorite area for visitors, including my kids, was the Sacred Bell or bon-shu. At over 6 feet high and weighing over 7 tons, this was located inside a bell house. It also resembled the bell at the original Byodo-in temple.
Visitors are encouraged to ring the bell using the wooden log call a shu-moku before entering the temple. The bell’s tones are supposed to clear negative thoughts and bring happiness, blessings and a long life. We rang this after visiting the temple which defeated the whole purpose of the bell for purification. But, my kids were more than happy to keep ringing it. I can imagine the line here when tour buses stop by and the continuous bell ringing which can probably get quite annoying for those trying to meditate.
This was a wonderful sidetrip from the beaches and Waikiki’s hustle and bustle. Regardless of your religious or spiritual preferences, the temple and its gardens including the pond and meditation areas were a delightful way to spend a peaceful visit and enjoy the beautiful grounds.
Tips for Visiting Byodo-in Temple
- Admission Prices: US$3 adults; US$1 kids
- Get the $1 fish and bird food and comes in a small plastic bag at the gift shop.
- Restrooms are located at the back of the gift shop.
- Free and ample parking
- The temple and grounds are open 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM daily.
- When touring the grounds, go left of the temple first to ring the bell before entering the temple.
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