Usually if I’m utterly exhausted I’ll forgo going to the temple. Temples can be exhausting. There’s usually very little shade around the grounds and you have to take your shoes off in most cases. You have to be dressed in a modest fashion which by summertime means for me that I’m going to have to borrow some robe or cloth to wrap around myself if I wasn’t properly prepared with a sweater to cover my arms/neck with.
But Byōdō-in was just a short walk away from Japan’s oldest tea house so I figured I might as well suck it up. Byōdō-in is a Buddhist temple that was built in 998 and is a UNESCO world heritage site. The big draw to it is the Phoenix Hall.
You can go in and visit the Phoenix Hall, however when I went the inside was undergoing repairs and restoration so I didn’t get to see any of it. But the other draw, which I didn’t miss out on with the Phoenix Hall is that it can also be found in your pocket whenever you’re in Japan.
It’s on the back of the 10 yen coin. Inside is a statue of Amida and the walls are covered in relief carvings. So I did miss a cool statue but they had examples of the relief carvings up in the Hoshokan Museum which I did manage to go into but which did not allow any photographs. It houses the temple’s treasures which include one of the temple bells, some phoenix’s from the roof of the phoenix hall (very cool to see them up close), and 26 statues of praying Bodhisattva. The museum is also air conditioned and there’s a short video you can watch, but no seating so it’s either floor or standing.
The other place I spent a lot of time was the Byodoin Tea Salon Toka. They offered a variety of options and an English friendly menu. Essentially any type of tea experience you want, they had. They also, thankfully, offered it either hot or iced. I picked maybe one of their least exciting options. Iced matcha.
For many of the tea options in the book like the Gyokuro and Sencha they had a tea master come out and show how to properly brew and go about making a cup of the tea, the matcha was much easier in comparison. (And also less exciting). Though I suppose part of me was really relieved to not have someone stand over me, show me the correct moves and then stand by to wait to see if I did it right. It was kind of nice to just be trusted to pour my hot matcha onto some ice in a cold glass. Not much room for error there.
All of the tea options came with these chalky sweets which I think were higashi. While they did great to balance the bitterness of pure matcha, they weren’t really my favorite snack I’d had that day. (Though it’s unfair to compare it with matcha parfaits and matcha ice cream). It’s much simpler and dry and well…chalky.
But I really enjoyed just taking a break from the beating sun to enjoy a cold drink in air conditioning. The tea shop is near the museum so I highly suggest giving it a visit if you want a break or a tea experience.
Byōdō-in costs 600 yen to visit. Visiting inside the Phoenix hall (on a Japanese only tour costs an additional 300 yen). The temple is open from 8:30am until 5:30pm with last entry allowed at 5:15. The museum hours are somewhat different and it opens at 9am and closes at5pm with last entry at 4:45pm/