Thursday Temple Tour (Byodo-In, Kahaluu, Oahu, Hawaii)
Stunning. Majestic. A hidden gem that’s off the beaten path. Those are just a few of the many adjectives which have been used over the years to describe Hawaii’s Byodo-In Temple.
A non-practicing Buddhist temple, the exterior, grounds and artwork are immediately recognizable to fans of television shows such as Hawaii Five-O, Lost, and Magnum, P.I., which all filmed episodes here.
Initially built in 1968 to memorialize the arrival of Japan’s first immigrants to Hawaii more than a century ago, this particular place of pilgrimage has since become a popular destination for graduations, military re-enlistment ceremonies, funeral services, and weddings – and a time travel device of sorts for 21st century contemplatives, who find the grounds so picturesque and restful that they are transported back to the years of 1052-1053 when Japan’s original Byodo-In Temple complex was erected in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture by the Regent Fujiwara.
Hawaii’s namesake temple is, in fact, a replica of one of the complex buildings at that famed Japanese complex – the Phoenix Hall (also known as Amidado Hall) – which opened its doors in 1053 and houses the Amida Nyorai (or Amitabha Tathagata), a seated, nearly eight-foot tall statue birthed by the master Heian Period sculptor Jocho to depict the principal Buddha of Pure Land Buddhism.
Hawaii’s Byodo-In Temple
Just as the Japanese temple complex is being preserved for future generations (as a UNESCO World Heritage site), so too is Hawaii’s smaller version of the Phoenix Hall – now designated as a Hawaii State Landmark. Situated in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park at the base of the Ko’olau Mountains near Kaneohe, Oahu, the hall first opened its doors on June 7, 1968.
Visitors here encounter strutting peacocks, black swans, turtles, frogs, and other animals wandering the temple’s verdant grounds, as well as small waterfalls, a meditation pavilion, a reflecting pond with Japanese koi, a tea house/gift shop, and a bell house with a five-foot tall, three-ton, bronze and tin sacred bell (bon-sho), which was cast in Osaka, Japan. When struck by its shu-moku (soft wooden log), the bell’s warm tones ripple gently across the grounds, banishing temptation and evil spirits while conferring happy longevity.
But it is when visitors enter the temple itself that the 21st century truly fades away. Towering above is another of the world’s great religious icons – the Amida Buddha. Surrounded by fifty-two smaller Bodhisattva sculptures, this nine-foot-plus tall Amida, which was sculpted and dressed in gold lacquer and gold leaf by Masuzo Inui, is reported to be the largest figure of its kind to ever have been fashioned outside of Japan.
For the less spiritually inclined, a series of concerts and other memorable activities bring visitors together regularly on the temple’s grounds in the spirit of fun and fellowship.
Among the most important of these special events held at Byodo-In is Obon. Typically celebrated by Buddhists in Japan every August, this festival welcomes the spirits of long-dead ancestors on their annual return visits to loved ones. Lanterns are lit, and sent floating down rivers or placed on buildings, helping to guide loved ones home as the living honor the departed through colorful dance ceremonies, temple food offerings and grave visitations.
If You Go:
Bring mosquito repellent, and be respectful. Remember that the temple and its grounds are a place of worship for area Buddhists, as well as a columbarium and cemetery for people of all faiths. Be quiet and thoughtful in your movements, remove your shoes before entering the temple’s sanctuary, and adhere to all regulations posted online and on site.
Memorial Park schedules may change without notice. Call ahead to verify regular and special event hours. Group tours are available by appointment. The Temple Grounds are open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Gift Shop is typically open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays and from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Sundays. Restrooms are available.
Mornings offer the best lighting; however, because the temple and grounds are privately owned, reservations must be made for all amateur or professional shoots. Paid permits are also required for professional and commercial photography. (Contact the events coordinator for pricing.) Aerial photography and drones are prohibited.
Temple Admission: $3 (adults), $2 (seniors), $1 (children).
Valley of the Temples Memorial Park
47-200 Kahekili Highway
Kaneohe, HI 96744
Telephone: (808) 725-2798
Directions: Easily accessible by car. See directions on the Byodo-In website.
Also accessible via bus with a roughly half-mile walk to reach the cemetery. Fees average $2.50 each way. For more information, call: (808) 848-5555.