Phoenix Hall (At the Byodoin)

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The extant Phoenix Hall (Hōōdō) of Byōdōin is located on the west bank of the Uji River southeast of Kyoto. Regent Fujiwara Yorimichi (990–1074) transformed an inherited villa into the (now lost) Main Hall of Byōdōin in 1051, his sixtieth year. The unprecedented Phoenix Hall, consecrated in 1053, was built as a three-dimensional representation of the depiction of Amida's Sukhāvatī Pure Land, as found in the Guan Wuliangshou jing (Visualization Sūtra). With its birdlike wings and tail, the Phoenix Hall faces east and was designed to be viewed from a small palace on the opposite shore. The hall and its central Amida (AmitĀbha) icon served as the focus of meditation and as a backdrop to ceremonies. Narrative paintings depicting the nine stages of rebirth adorned the doors and walls surrounding the icon, each showing a seasonal landscape as the setting for a "descent of Amida" (raigō) to recognizably Japanese devotees. Above the walls, fifty-two small wood-carved bodhisattvas and musicians complete the effect of Amida's descent.

Mimi Yiengpruksawan has made a convincing case that the Phoenix Hall was the private domain of Yorimichi and his descendants, rather than the quasipublic focus of the temple. Esoteric Tendai ceremonies were carried out in front of the Main Hall icon, Dainichi Nyorai, while the Phoenix Hall appears to have been Yorimichi's private devotional chapel where he himself could meditate upon Sukhāvatī. After his death, his daughter Kanshi lived at Byōdōin and carried out ceremonies on behalf of her father and other relatives, both at the temple's sūtra repository and at the Phoenix Hall.

See also:Japan, Buddhist Art in


Akiyama Terukazu. "The Door Paintings in the Phoenix Hall of Byōdōin as Yamatoe." Artibus Asiae 53, nos. 1–2 (1993): 144–167.

Yiengpruksawan, Mimi Hall. "The Phoenix Hall at Uji and the Symmetries of Replication." Art Bulletin 77, no. 4 (1995): 648–672.

Karen L. Brock