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Inside: Tucked away on Oahu’s spectacular windward side, the Byodo-In Temple is the perfect place for tranquility. Here’s everything you need to know to plan your visit.
Oahu’s lush windward side is one of my favorite parts of this island I call home. Just a short drive from busy Honolulu, there are plenty of beautiful places worth visiting along Oahu’s eastern shores – beaches, hiking trails, botanical gardens, and more.
But perhaps the most unexpected sight is a stunning Buddhist temple tucked away in one of the island’s most tranquil locations.
Nestled within the peaceful confines of the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, the Byodo-In Temple is a breathtaking demonstration of traditional Japanese architecture right here on Oahu.
The exquisite temple is not visible from the main road so after a quiet drive through the memorial park, it was almost a shock the first time my husband, Dave, and I spotted it.
Painted in a vibrant red in stark contrast to the emerald peaks surrounding it, the temple reflects gently off the surface of the koi ponds. It’s a true stunner and the perfect place to leave the hustle and bustle of Honolulu behind and seek out your own quiet slice of inner peace.
What’s the history of the Byodo-In Temple?
Hawaii’s Byodo-In Temple is a smaller replica of its nearly 1,000-year-old counterpart in Uji, Japan (a United Nations World Heritage Site). Built in 1968, the temple was commissioned to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to the island.
But unlike the Japanese original, Oahu’s version is not a practicing Buddhist site. Instead, it’s a serene place for introspection and meditation set against the jaw-dropping backdrop of the Ko’olau Mountain range.
Planning Your Visit to the Byodo-In Temple
Before I move on to what to see at the temple, let’s quickly cover the “need to know” facts for your visit:
How to Get there
From downtown Honolulu, the easiest way to make the 15-mile drive is generally via the H-1 to the Likelike Highway exit and then on to Kahekili Highway. With no traffic, it’ll take you about 35 minutes. But there’s no such thing as no traffic leaving Honolulu so plan on 45 minutes.
Hours of Operation
The temple grounds and gift shop are open daily from 8:30am to 4:30pm (last entry at 4:15pm).
Parking at the Byodo-in Temple
Parking is a breeze here. You’ll find plenty of free parking (and probably a tour bus or two) at the entrance to the temple grounds. Drive through the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park and you’ll spot the parking lot ahead.
Is there an Entrance Fee?
While the Byodo-In Temple is a religious site, it’s not a practicing Buddhist temple so there is a modest admission fee. Tickets are $5 for adults and $2 for children (2-12) and the entrance fees are used to maintain the temple and its beautiful gardens.
Tickets can be purchased online on the Byodo-In Temple website but it’s not necessary to purchase them in advance. Just remember that they don’t accept cash at the ticket booth (contactless payment only).
Tip: Look out for the cute cats hanging out at the ticket booth greeting visitors.
What’s the Dress Code at the Byodo-In Temple?
While the Byodo-In Temple is not an active temple, it is still a religious site so proper etiquette dictates that visitors dress appropriately. In Hawaii, this basically just means no beach attire but do your best to be respectful with your choice of clothing.
Do I need a tour to visit the Byodo-In Temple?
Nope, this is an easy one to explore at your own pace as long as you have a rental car.
Tip: If you need a rental car, Discount Hawaii Car Rental is the best choice on the island.
For rental cars in Hawaii, go to the local experts. They’ll find you the best rate among all the major companies with no booking fees. And their customer support is top-notch.
There are no guided tours of the temple available but there are plenty of informational signs posted to help you understand the grounds and enjoy your visit.
If you don’t want to drive yourself, the Byodo-In Temple is a popular stop on many of Oahu’s Circle Island tours. There are dozens of Circle Island Tours but this one is my favorite:
If you do drive yourself, other nearby stops on your drive from Honolulu are the Nu’uana Pali Lookout, the (Instagram-famous) Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens, and the Kaneohe sandbar.
Do yourself a favor and go slightly out of your way to take the H-3 (John A. Burns Freeway) on the way back to town. It’s a spectacular drive in both directions.
Tip: My favorite self-guided driving tour
When we have friends and family visit, we like to make a full day of the drive around the southeast part of Oahu along Kalaniana’ole Highway.
The “friends & family tour” includes stops at the Halona Blowhole & Halona Beach Cove (the “From Here to Eternity” Beach), Sandy Beach Park, the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail hike, Waimanalo Beach, lunch in Kailua, and then the Pali Lookout, the Instagram-famous Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens, and the Byodo-In Temple. We finish by driving the gorgeous H-3 highway back to Waikiki.
It’s a perfect, low-stress, cheap, at-your-own-pace kind of day. And it’s an eye-opener for anyone who thinks Oahu is just Waikiki.
You can do your own version of my tour with the awesome Shaka Guide app (it’s how we first toured this part of the island).
If you’re a DIY kind of traveler like I am, this is the perfect app to download for your Hawaii vacation. These GPS-guided audio tours are fun, easy to follow, and a super affordable way to explore the islands. I bought the whole Hawaii package when we moved here but you can also purchase individual tours.
What to see at the Byodo-In Temple
As you leisurely explore the temple grounds, here are the top sights to look for:
The highlight of any visit to the temple is the towering statue of Amida Buddha that sits within Phoenix Hall. The hall was built for the sole purpose of enshrining the nine-foot-tall gold leaf statue that is a symbol of Buddhist teachings.
Nearby, stands a 3-ton brass bell, also known as bon-sho (sacred bell). The original version in Japan hangs in an identical Bell House and is said to be more than 900 years old.
Before entering the Byodo-In temple, visitors are encouraged to ring the large bell with the handy wooden log (Dave took that one on for us!). This custom is believed to cleanse the mind of evil spirits and bring happiness and long life.
In contrast with the tranquil temple environment, the lively koi ponds teem with action. Kids love watching the colorful koi fish splash about and they can even purchase fish food inside the gift shop.
Note: Bringing your own fish food is not allowed. This helps protect the well-being of the fish and keeps the temple’s ecosystem balanced.
This tranquil spot tucked behind the temple is ideal for moments of quiet introspection. Surrounded by scenic beauty, you are invited to meditate amidst nature’s chorus, under the subtle shade of the trees.
I’m a sucker for a good gift shop. Before you leave, don’t forget to visit the cute shop here. It’s a tight squeeze inside but the shop has unique souvenirs, religious items, and even a few drinks and snacks.
If you need a heartier snack than chips and a soda, there’s also a terrific fruit stand nearby with freshly cut fruit and juices.
Around the temple gardens, you’ll find little waterfalls, black swans, and even a peacock or two strutting around. It’s the perfect blend of flora, fauna, and total Zen.
Byodo-In Temple FAQs
Just in case I missed anything, here are a few more frequently asked questions about the Byodo-In Temple:
- Is the Byodo-In Temple worth it? Absolutely! The Byodo-In Temple offers a unique glimpse into Japanese culture and aesthetics, right in the heart of Oahu. Its serene atmosphere, imposing architecture, and stunning gardens make it an exceptional cultural destination.
- Are pets allowed at the Byodo-In Temple? With the exception of service animals meeting ADA requirements, pets are not allowed at the temple.
- What is the significance of the Byodo-In Temple? The Byodo-In Temple is a replica of a historical structure in Uji, Japan, representing traditional Japanese architectural grandeur. It serves as a place of peace and tranquility, showcasing the cultural heritage and the interweaving of Buddhist and Hawaiian traditions.
- How much time should I spend at the Byodo-In Temple? To fully immerse yourself in the calming ambiance and explore everything the temple has to offer, you should plan for a visit of about one hour. But if you’re short on time you can easily see the highlights in 30 minutes.
- Do you have to pay for the Byodo-In Temple? Yes, the admission fee is $5. This helps to maintain the temple’s pristine condition and contributes to the running of the operations.
- Are there any facilities at the Byodo-In Temple? There are restrooms and a small gift shop. There’s no on-site restaurant or cafe, but the temple is surrounded by a variety of great local restaurants (like Haleiwa Joe’s Haiku Gardens!). The temple’s gift shop does offer drinks and snacks and there’s also a fruit stand on the temple grounds.