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Byodo-In Temple, Oahu’s Buddhist Temple

The Byodo-In Temple in Oahu

The Byodo-In Temple at the Valley of the Temples was one of the highlights of my last vacation to Hawaii. Located at the foot of the beautiful Ko’olau Mountains on Kahekili Highway in Kaneohe, it’s a relaxing 30-minute drive from Waikiki. With an entrance fee of just USD 5, it’s an inexpensive and unique activity suited to families. While many might be familiar with the Byodo-In Buddhist Temple in Japan, Oahu’s version is a half-scale replica.

Although I had visited Oahu before, I could not find the beautiful red temple by address alone. From the highway, I could not see the temple. However, on my last visit, I found it by my car’s GPS. But nestled in the back of the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, it’s a treasure worth waiting to see. So, I highly recommend you visit Byodo-In Temple, Oahu’s Buddhist Temple.

Byodo-In Temple In A Cemetery?

I visited the Byodo-In Temple on my way to a Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center. I did not expect to find the Japanese temple in a cemetery. 

As I entered the Memorial Park, the attendant in the little hut directed me to the narrow winding road that leads to the back of the cemetery and the much-anticipated Temple. I still remember driving through the Kaneohe Memorial Cemetery and catching my first glimpse of the Hawaiian temple through the trees. Its stunning vista at the foot of the lush green mountains took my breath away, and I was instantly transported to Japan.

Excited, I couldn’t wait to park the car and explore this little treasure. The Temple is open between 9 am and 5 pm daily, and admission is a bargain. At just USD 5 per adult, USD 3 for seniors, and USD 2 for children, it’s an awesome cheap Oahu activity that everyone should do. Even though the admission was nominal, I had already purchased Go Oahu passes which included free admission.

Additional Reading On Hawaii:

●  Experience the Hawaiian Islands on a cruise from Vancouver to Oahu.

●  Enjoy a few hours at Hanauma Bay, a popular nature preserve for snorkeling.

Walking across the wooden footbridge and approaching the shrine, I felt a sense of peacefulness and harmony. A large reflecting pond surrounds the holy structure and meanders around the beautiful temple grounds. Black swans, small turtles, frogs, and an abundance of koi also known as carp co-exist in the waters while wild peacocks roam the grounds. For a moment, I forgot I was in Hawaii. If you’re looking to escape the crowds in Waikiki and want a little serenity, Oahu’s Buddhist Temple is worthy of a visit.

History Of The Byodo-In Temple

The Byodo-In Temple in Oahu is a non-functioning half-scale replica of the Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. This smaller temple was commissioned in 1968 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. While the original was built of wood, this modern-day version is constructed mostly of concrete. However, this temple is a stunning piece of architecture, so be sure to check out the intricate roof, rafters, and small details found everywhere.

Also, there is a replica of the famous bon-sho bell to the left of the temple, near the entrance.

Ring The Sacred Bell

Arriving at the temple, I took the left path along the pond to the temple. First, I encountered a wooden structure containing the bon-sho or “sacred bell.” This sacred bell was cast in Osaka, Japan, with the assistance of the Japanese government. This large three-ton bell measures six feet high and almost five feet wide.

Visitors to the Byodo-In Temple are invited to ring the sacred bell
My husband, Brian ringing the sacred bell

Like its counterpart in Japan, it is housed in a bell house or kanetru-ki-do. Renowned for its shape, sound, and calligraphy, the bell is separated into four sections depicting the Buddhist concept of heaven.

Visitors arriving at the temple, take pleasure in ringing the bell using the soft wooden log called a shumoku. The unique tones of the bon-sho help to clear the mind of negativity, impart deep peace, and bring happiness, blessings, and long life. With this in mind, my husband and I took turns ringing the bell and listening to its calming tone.

Meditation Pavilion

As I continued along the path towards the temple, a short trail leads off to the left and up to the meditation pavilion. Located next to a narrow section of the pond, the Tusri-Dono, as it was initially called, translates to Emperor’s fishing pavilion. Nestled amongst the trees and beautiful gardens, it’s the perfect place for meditation and being one with nature.

The Meditation Pavilion at the Byodo-In Temple
The Meditation Pavilion at the Byodo-In Temple

Heading down from the meditation pavilion, I got a first glimpse of the sizable koi in the pond below. It made me reminisce about the koi I raised back home in my own backyard pond. While the koi gather, waiting to be fed, do not feed them human food. The small gift shop on the other side of the temple sells small bags of pellets to feed the hungry fish.

The Byodo-In Temple

While Oahu’s Buddhist Temple is not a practicing temple, it’s still important to be respectful and quiet at all times. Before entering the Hawaiian temple, I had to remove my shoes at the door. Inside, the architecture and an impressive nine-foot golden statue of the Amida Buddha sitting on a lotus leaf amazed me. According to the temple staff, it is the largest Buddha outside of Japan.

The Amida Buddha sitting on a lotus leaf
The Amida Buddha sitting on a lotus leaf

I lit some incense in front of the Buddha and took some time to really appreciate this special place. From the front of the temple entrance, I admired the manicured zen rock gardens. Apparently, practicing raking of a “dry garden” teaches priests the art of concentration.

The Reflecting Pond

As I left the temple and walked across the lovely bridge to the gift shop, the number of large koi in the reflecting pond startled me. It was obvious these fish knew exactly where visitors would feed them. Be sure to purchase a bag or two of pellets and watch the frenzy of fish flipping around in the water trying to get their fair share. While we bought three tiny bags; the birds, black swans, koi, and even a turtle devoured the pellets quickly.

A frenzy of koi in the reflecting pond
A frenzy of koi in the reflecting pond

Alternatively, you can buy koi pellets at a much cheaper price online. I felt sorry for the small turtle who was getting bashed around as the koi thrashed in the still waters.

A small turtle getting pushed around by the large koi in the pond.
A small turtle getting pushed around by the large koi

Seeing these koi brought back memories of when I had my own koi pond a few years ago. However, the Asian temple’s pond held the largest number of koi I had ever seen in my life. Is Byodo-In Temple, Oahu’s best-kept secret? Visit there and judge for yourself. For me, the temple is a Hawaiian treasure that I will surely see again.

Feeding the koi at Byodo-In Tempe in Oahu
The feeding frenzy

My husband and I visited this Oahu temple as part of our Hawaiian honeymoon cruise. After three visits to the Hawaiian Islands, I was thrilled I finally found this hidden treasure and will definitely be stopping by again in the near future. Whether you have a week or just a few days in Oahu, you should consider adding the temple to your itinerary.

Happy travels ~ Karen