3 Must-tries on Byodoin Temple & Matcha Tea Ceremony

Byodoin temple and a cup of matcha on a plate
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Must-Try 1: Compare Byodoin with Building Depicted on Ten-yen Coin

Byodoin

Byodoin and its beautiful garden

The origin of Byodoin was the secondary residence of an aristocrat in the late 9th century, and it was rebuilt as a temple in the mid-11th century by Yorimichi Fujiwara.

In those days, eschatology prevailed after continuous natural and man-made disasters, and people believed that Buddhism would die out. The purpose of Buddhism also changed from salvation in this world to salvation in the next.

Byodo means equality. In a nut shell, Byodoin was built in the hope that Buddha’s salvation is equal for everyone.

People desired to go to Buddhist paradise after the death. Byodoin was organized reflecting on that thought. Byodoin together with Uji river and surrounding mountains are considered as Buddhist paradise as a whole.

The statue of Budda and phoenix

Byodoin Temple is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage as one of the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto”.

The Phoenix Hall and the principal image of Amida Budda (a statue of Budda) is designated as National Treasure. The phoenix on the roof is also a highlight, however , it is a replica to prevent damage caused by rust and real one can be seen in Museum Hoshokan in the precincts of Byodoin.

The red ink samp of Byodoin

You can get two types “Goshuin” as certification of your visit to Byodoin. For more information about goshuin, please check it from here: Fushimi Inari & Inari Sushi” / “Goshuin

Building Depicted on Ten-yen Coin

The Phoenix Hall of Byodoin and ten-yen coin

The building depicted on ten-yen coin is the Phoenix Hall of Byodoin. The Phoenix Hall consists of a central building, corridors on both left and right sides and corridors in the rear which looks as if phoenix spreads its wings.

Some Japanese people who visit Byodoin compare the Phoenix Hall on the coin with real one. Some take picture of the Phoenix Hall with the coin. Why don’t you do the same joining the Japanese.

Byodoin in Hawaii

Byodoin and its beautiful garden in Hawaii

There is Byodoin in Oahu, Hawaii which is modeled after the Byodoin Phoenix Hall in Japan. It makes me feel a bit strange to see that very Japanese scene is in Hawaii. The reason is that it was built in 1968 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Hawaii. It is called Valley of the Temples Memorial Park and not called Byodoin.

It is so real and beautiful, and you can buy omikuji (Japanese fortune telling paper) like Japanese people do in Japan. For more information about omikuji, please check it from here: Fushimi Inari & Inari Sushi” / “Omikuji”

This cemetery accepts all religions, so there are graves with Christian-style crosses and Japanese-style Buddhism graves etc.

Must-Try 2: Experience Tea Ceremony

Matcha

Matcha powder coming out of a millstone

Uji where Byodoin exists is one of the most famous places of quality matcha. You need to savor matcha in Uji in a variety of ways.

Matcha farmers cover tea leaves when it sprouts out in April to shutter the sunlight to retain flavor components in the leaves which generates unique flavor of Matcha. Also, the tea leaves produce more chloroplasts in order to generate sufficient nutrients even with less sunlight. Thus, the green color of the tea leaves becomes darker.

Then the tea leaves get steamed and dried, and after that grinded with a millstone into fine green powder.

The tea powder itself is dissolved in hot water to make matcha while tea is extracted out of the tea leaves by hot water for usual green tea. That is why you can take whole the nutrients of tea leaves when drinking matcha.

Sado and Tea Ceremony

A straw-matted room equipped with tea ceremony utensils

Sado is the Japanese traditional culture which is said to be established as current style by Sen-no-Rikyu in the 16th century who described “Wa-Kei-Sei-Jaku” (harmony, respect, purity and tranquility) which are the four important spirits of the sado.

Hosts invite guests to Japanese tea ceremonies which are held in small straw-matted rooms called chashitsu equipped with tea ceremony utensils to show hospitality while serving matcha according to established etiquette.

In the chashitsu, there are hanging scrolls and flower arrangement, and appreciating them is one of the etiquette of the tea ceremony.

Matcha powder and bamboo whisk is on a tray

In the Japanese tea ceremony, the host cleanse utensils with a cloth which is called purification, then prepare a bowl of tea by pouring hot water into matcha and stirring it with a bamboos whisk.

Japanese sweets and tea which are served to a guest of a tea ceremony

The host serves you traditional Japanese confectionery first, then matcha tea. There is specific etiquette depending on schools and styles of sado.

A bowl of thick matcha tea and thin matcha tea

 

There are two types of matcha tea which are thin tea and thick tea. If matcha tea were coffee, thin tea would be regular coffee, and thick tea would be expresso.

Thin tea has a bitter taste characteristic of matcha, but is relatively light in flavor and smooth to drink. Thick tea, on the other hand, is characterized by its rich matcha flavor and high viscosity.

Usually, thick tea is served at formal tea ceremonies, however. it just depends. In a full-course tea ceremony including a meal, the meal comes first, and thick tea comes second, and after that thin tea is served.

A black bowl for matcha tea is on a table

In the late 15 to late 16th century (period of the warring states), For the military commanders, sado was a common general education and a status symbol. To be proficient in the etiquette of tea ceremony and to be a connoisseur of tea utensils was a proof of being a first-rate military commander with wealth and power.

During the Warring States period, when killing each other was a daily occurrence, boiling water, making tea, and quietly enjoying it in the tea room goes with the spirit of Zen which was a way of restoring calm to the military commanders.

A Japanese room and garden

Sado is based on the ideas of wabi and sabi. Wabi means humbleness or simplicity. It is an idea that seeks spiritual fulfillment and beauty in simplicity. Sabi means the deterioration due to the passage of time. It is the idea that beauty is found in things that fade away.

The Japanese sense of beauty in such negative emotions is unique to the Japanese, and the spirit of sado is a typical example of this.

Tea Ceremony Experience

A bowl of matcha and several Japanese sweets on a tray

Why don’t you experience tea ceremony as there are some experience courses prepared for beginners in Uji. You do not worry about how to behave in the ceremony as the instructors of the courses kindly tell you what to do.

Two women in beautiful kimono(Japanese traditional dress)

If you want to get into the mood for a tea ceremony, making use of rental kimono (Japanese traditional dress) could be a good option when participating the ceremony.

One of the tea ceremony experience services you can try is one prepared by Uji City municipal tea ceremony house TAIHO-AN which was built to promote Uji tea and the tea ceremony.

For more information about Taiho-an, please see the website of Taiho-an from here.

Must-Try 3: Savor Matcha Sweets & Cha-soba

Matcha Sweets

The varieties of matcha sweets are innumerable. Now matcha is known worldwide and you can eat matcha sweets in your country, however, you need to try authentic matcha sweets at Uji in Kyoto. You can find it at cafes at every corner of Uji.

There are not only traditional Japanese style matcha sweets but also newly created western style sweets.

Japanese Style

Warabimochi(Japanese traditional sweets)covered with matcha powder is on a plate

Japanese traditional matcha sweets are such as sweet rice matcha dumplings, shaved ice topped with matcha syrup, matcha yokan (sweet bean jelly), matcha castella (Japanese sponge cake), matcha yatsuhashi(cinnamon-seasoned rice flour crepe(soft one) or cookie(baked one)) and so on and so forth.

The above is matcha warabimochi which is made from warabi flour (powdered starch from the root of the bracken plant) with characteristics of chewy texture and smoothness. It is sprinkled with matcha and served with molasses.

Western Style

2 glasses of matcha parfait on a table

There are so many kinds of western style matcha sweets such as parfait, roll cakes, ice cream, pound cake etc., and Japanese are continuing to create new type of matcha sweets. The reason is that bitterness of matcha goes well with sweetness of cream and sugar, and that it creates beautiful unique green appearance.

Matcha sweets is one of the typical “Wagashi” (Japanese traditional confectionery). For more information about wagashi, please check it from here: “8 Japanese Foods to Learn About” / “Wagashi”

Cha-soba

A plate of cha-soba(matcha-soba) with dipping sauce is on a table

You also need to try cha-soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles kneaded with matcha). Cha-soba is made with white buckwheat flour (made only using the center of the grain) and matcha powder etc.to make beautiful green color. When you bite cha-soba, the aroma of matcha spreads in the mouth. Cha-soba is a type of soba, and there are a variety of soba in Japan. For more information about soba, please check it from here: “8 Japanese Foods to Learn About” / “Soba”

Advice & Recommendations from a Native Japanese

Choose Season to Visit Byodoin

Wisteria flowers in full bloom

If you visit Byodoin in late spring, please do not forget to admire wisteria flowers.  The weeping variety of wisteria is really beautiful. Wister was loved by aristocrats in the old days which was considered as the symbol of prosperity.

Cherry trees in full bloom

Cherry blossom is also beautiful if you visit Byodoin at the end of March or beginning of April. Two species of cherry blossom can be seen near Phoenix Hall. One is Someiyoshino which is usual one (the above left), and the other is Shidarezakura which looks like cherry blossoms is weeping (the above right).

Gyokuro and Hojicha

A cup of gyokuro and a cup of hojicha are on a table

Uji is famous for its quality matcha which means that Uji produces quality tea leaves. You can enjoy other Japanese tea such as “Gyokuro” (the left in the above photo) and “Hojicha” (the right in the photo) other than matcha at many tea leave stores and cafes in Uji.

Gyokuro is classified as premium tea together with matcha. The way of growing tea leaves is the same between matcha and gyokuro. Matcha leaves are steamed and dried without rubbing, and then ground into powder, on the other hand, gyokuro leaves are steamed and dried while being rubbed and not ground into powder.

The reason to rub gyokuro tea leaves is to activate the oxidizing enzymes contained in the tea leaves and promote fermentation. When drinking, gyokuro is brewed by pouring boiling water over the tea to extract it.

Hojicha is a roasted tea made from tea leaves grown without covering. It has a distinctive aroma, little bitterness or astringency, and is light on the palate. It is suitable for tea during meals.

Matcha ice and hojicha ice are on a plate

In many souvenir stores and cafes in Uji, hojicha ice cream is sold together with matcha ice cream. It is very tasty with a perfect balance of the distinctive aroma and milk flavor. Ice on the left in the above is matcha ice cream and the right is hojicha ice cream.

Make Matcha Latte with Uji Matcha at Home

A bowl of matcha latte and a glass of iced matcha latte

Let’s make matcha latte with authentic Uji matcha powder at home. It is easy to make and really tasty.

Matcha Latte Recipe

Matcha powder whipped in a mixing bowl
A glass of matcha Latte which is being prepared

Put 2 tsp(4g) of matcha and 1 Tbsp(12g) of sugar in a mixing bowl, and mix them well so that matcha does not become a mass in the process of whipping.

Then whip it by a small whisk while adding 1.5 floz(45cc) of boiled water slowly.

Prepare 5floz(150g) of hot milk in a cup, and pour the whipped matcha onto the milk.

To make iced matcha latte, put 2.5oz(70g) of ice cube in a glass and pour 5floz(150g) of milk.

Pour the whipped matcha aiming at cube ice slowly to make a whipped matcha layer on the milk.

Have a Matcha Latte Party with Genuine Japanese Confectionery

Small and colorful Japanese confectionery on a tray

Let’s buy rakugan to have a matcha party. Rakugan is made by molding rice flour, syrup, sugar, etc. and drying it. They are formed in the shape of flowers of the four seasons like cherry blossoms, or traditional Japanese good luck charms such as cranes & turtles & sea breams, and pine & bamboo & plum trees.

They are often used as confectionery at real Japanese tea ceremonies. Don’t you think of having a party of matcha latte with Traditional Japanese confectionery is a new way of tea ceremony.

Access Information

To Go to Byodoin Temple

10 minutes from Uji Station of JR Line.

10 minutes from Uji Station of Keihan Railway

To Go to Taiho-an

15 minutes from Uji Station of JR Line.

10 minutes from Uji Station of Keihan Railway

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