Ok… picture this… birds chirping, a gentle waterfall bubbling, the smell of florals in the air, and the deep reverberation “donnnngggg” sound of a massive Buddhist bell. If that scene appeals to you, then I highly recommend you add “visit a Buddhist temple” to your bucket list. I finally toured the Byodo-In Temple in Hawai’i, and National Geographic was right – it is one of the 20 most beautiful Buddhist temples around the world – and it’s much easier to get to.
The Byodo-In Temple
If you’ve never heard of it before, the Byodo-In Temple is a temple (obviously) located in Kaneohe, Hawai’i. It’s actually a replica of a much larger temple located in Uji, Japan that is over a thousand years old! (That’s a millennium plus – not millennial – meaning it was around before the years had four digits!)
The Oahu version was built to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants moving to Hawai’i.
It is a non-practicing temple (so don’t expect to see monks roaming the grounds), but people of all faiths (or non-faiths) are welcome to visit.
What is there to see?
There is so much natural and oriental beauty to absorb in such a serene space… it’s almost unreal. And that doesn’t even take into account the surrounding Hawaiian mountains and the island of O’ahu itself.
If you’re a slow walker, and an “I’ve-got-to-take-in-EVERYTHING” kind of person, like me, then it should take about 45 minutes to an hour to tour the grounds. Generally, though, most people spend about 30 minutes there.
In case you’re squeamish around cemeteries, you should be aware that the temple is located in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park – which is an actual cemetery. But even the burial grounds are a sight to behold. Everything is quite calm and picturesque.
Join me on a photo walkthrough so you can get a better idea.
You’ll arrive at the temple via a long-ish winding drive through the memorial grounds, headed up the mountain. Once you get to the top… you’ll see the grandeur of the bridge, the temple, and the grounds.
When you cross the bridge and begin your tour, you’ll start by walking to the left… where you see…
The Bon Sho (the Sacred Bell)
The bell is 5 feet high and weighs three tons! It’s huge and heavy, and so intricately detailed. There’s a large wooden log (that’s surprisingly easy to move) that’s used to ring the bell. A plaque explains that it’s customary to offer a donation and ring the bell prior to entering the temple; basically, get your mind and body ready for all the good things. (I’m paraphrasing here.)
If you’ve ever heard the sounds of Japanese bell tones (like the beginning of this video here), then you have an idea of what it sounds like. Visitors ringing the bell only adds to the ambiance of the environment. (Unless there’s a larger group where each person rings in a row… that’s a little bothersome.)
The Meditation Pavilion
Next is probably my favorite spot, only because I like quiet spaces and fewer crowds. While sitting there, you can hear a small stream-waterfall, koi fish swimming and the bon sho bell in the “near” distance. It really is a zen moment to try to experience if you can.
Japanese Koi Fish and Swans and Turtles… Oh my!
Wildlife are everywhere, but still, orderly.
The black swans were a gift from Australia – and – thankfully, they chose to stay on the grounds. These birds are quite large and gentle looking. But be warned, swans can and will chase you… speaking from experience (not at the temple, though) — look, but keep your distance… I’m just saying…
And there are turtles…
And Koi fish!!! These Koi fish are huge (they can grow to over 2 feet in length)! And did you know Japanese koi fish can live to be upwards of 40 years or so?
The Amida Buddha
Now, I was already aware that the buddha statue was large – but I was not ready for the reality of a golden carving that’s over 9 feet tall!
It’s truly breathtaking.
When entering the temple, it is requested that you take off your shoes. They have shoe racks and seating available. And don’t worry about dirty floors – I had on white socks and didn’t notice anything.
The details of the sculptures, woodwork, and architecture are even more awe inspiring in person. I mean, you can’t help but feel calmer while there.
There is an area to light incense, so, if you’re sensitive to smoke or fragrances, it may cause some low to mild irritation. But there’s plenty of open space to still observe and appreciate the statue from outdoors.
The Tea House Gift Shop
There is an actual Japanese tea house on the grounds that’s been converted to the gift shop. Inside you’ll find fish food for sale (for the koi fish), and various oriental items from statues to exercise stress balls to kimonos. (Although, I didn’t see any actual tea. You would think a former tea house would still sell tea — unless I missed it.)
There’s a good selection of items to choose from; at pretty reasonable (gift shop) prices. And you can even get regular snacks and drinks. Also, if you need to use the restroom, they are located behind the gift shop.
Sadly, I didn’t get a photo of the tea house (there were too many folks around by then).
Where is the Byodo-In Temple
If you’d like to visit the temple, check out their website for helpful information prior to your trip. It’s about a 30 minute scenic drive from Honolulu, Hi – you’d think you were in Jurassic Park seeing the views along the way. (Did you know that scenes from Jurassic Park were filmed on Oahu?! I believe it was at the Kualoa Ranch.)
The temple is located at the foot of the Ko’olau Mountains. These mountains offer such a tranquil backdrop – regardless of whether it’s a sunny or cloudy day.
The cost (currently) is $5 at most per person. It’s cheaper for children (keiki) and the elderly (kupuna).
You do have the option to explore the grounds on your own, or enjoy a guided tour at no additional cost.
They also offer the use of the facilities for private gatherings such as weddings, concerts and more.
I hope you enjoyed touring the Byodo-In Temple with me! If you’ve been there, let me know about your experience in the comments below.
Until Next Time,
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