Rome was not built in a day as they say so I knew I would not be able to accomplish my goal of seeing all of Kyoto's 17 UNESCO World Heritage Sites on this trip. But I knew I could add a few more to what I had already seen.
It was nearly 4 in the afternoon when we boarded the JR Nara Rapid Express from Kyoto Station which would take us to Uji, a 15 minute train ride away.
Our destination was Byodo-in Temple located in this suburb of Kyoto. As it was winter, closing hours were earlier than usual and we wanted to get there before the gates closed.
The temple is a good ten minute brisk walk from JR Uji Station. As we waited to cross the intersection, I was surprised to see a familiar scene from The Tale of Genji, placed on top of an arch.
Later, I learned that the last ten chapters of this famous novel were set in Uji.
We met tourists walking back from Byodo-in. The road leading to the temple is lined with small cafes, restaurants and souvenir stores but there was no time to stop and browse.
Well, I did stop for a few seconds to snap this photo of a stone cat in front of a shop's door.
This is the Phoenix Hall or Amida-do, the most distinctive structure in Byodo-in, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. Amida-do stands on an island in the middle of Aji-Ike pond.
It is one of the last surviving examples of architecture dating back to the Heian period of the tenth century. The temple garden is also acclaimed as one of the best examples of gardens from this period.
The central hall of Amida-do is flanked by two corridors, one on each side. It is said that the structure resembles a bird with its wings outstretched in flight.
The statue of the Amida Buddha or the Amida-Nyorai inside the central hall is surrounded by smaller bodhisattvas. Faith in the Amida Buddha centres on the knowledge that he comes at death to escort our souls to heaven. That is a beautiful and comforting thought.
Can you see the tiny gold light in the middle of the centre pavilion?
At sunrise and at sunset, natural light strikes the face of the Amida Buddha, creating a transcendent, ethereal glow.
Byodo-in Temple, aside from being a UNESCO World Heritage site is also commemorated by the image of the Phoenix Hall on the Japanese ten yen coin.
The Amida-do is a glorious sight -- this reflection of the hall, along with trees, clouds and blue sky, on the still, green waters of the Aji-Ike pond had me rooted to this spot.
Another noteworthy sight is this replica of the temple bell. The original is kept in the temple museum. The bell is a National Treasure and considered as one of the top three bells in Japan.
This replica stands in a red pavilion atop a small rise, overlooking the rest of the grounds.
I briefly wonder if the original bell feels cooped up, hidden inside the museum?
From the bell tower I look out onto the mountains surrounding the temple. It is late afternoon and the setting sun creates a beautiful backdrop.
A thoroughly modern underground museum houses the rich and extensive treasures of Byodo-in.
Because it is built into a small hill, it is effectively camouflaged and hidden -- its sleek concrete design does not clash with the traditional architecture of the Amida-do.
Remnants of red maple leaves cling to nearly bare branches. The cold wind is picking up and it's time to head back to Kyoto. Besides, the temple is about to close.
Amida-do is really beautiful no matter which side you view it from. This is a photo I took of the back of the structure, as I came down from the bell tower.
I am reminded of Kinkakuji -- Kyoto's temple acclaimed for its striking beauty.
But I feel that Kinkakuji is impressive only when seen from a distance, from a particular spot across its pond. As you get closer and when you turn back to look at it, it becomes just another brightly painted structure.
Amida-do to my mind is awe-inspiring, viewed from any and all angles.
As I walk around the Amida-do, I can see how well maintained and lovingly preserved it is.
It seems unparalleled in its beauty ... I cannot bear to tear my eyes away.
One last farewell look as we leave Byodo-in. Thank you Buddha, this visit was indeed a gift.