Byodo-in (平等院) is very famous for one reason: it is the building that appears on all 10 yen coins in Japan! For this reason the expansive grounds are often packed with tourists fighting to take "the" picture of the Phoenix Hall (鳳凰堂). It is in fact quite appropriate to put this building on a coin for it was built by a person with a lot of money and influence, for the sole purpose of showing off (this attitude is still very popular in Japan).
Byodo-in was thus built in 1053 by Yorimichi Fujiwara. Fujiwara was a very affluent and rich family, whose past-time was apparently to fight for more influence and money. Nothing new here... Anyway, the pretext for building the hall was to enshrine a statue of a Buddha, and Fujiwara didn't do a cheap job, probably because he didn't know what "cheap" meant :-) After a thousand years the hall has lost his original colours, but I think it's even more beautiful now. Like an old man face, wrinkles add character...
Taking nice pictures of the hall is not that easy, and one has to find the right time when the pond a nicely mirroring the Phoenix hall. Plus the sky should be either blue or very dark, otherwise you will end up with a big white picture. Inside the Phoenix hall are also 52 sculptures of worshipping Buddha on clouds.
A modern building serves as museum where you can see several "national treasures". Some of them are quite impressive, especially the level of details of some statues or metal work. To some the building could be even more interesting that the content itself, for it was actually designed, by an architect, unlike most buildings in Japan.
Behind the Phoenix hall and the museum are two smaller sub-temples, Jodo-in 浄土院 and Saisho-in 最勝院. You can walk on the grounds of the first one, but Saisho-in cannot be visited.
Note that you cannot commercially use pictures taken in Byodo-in. It's rare to see that mentioned explicitly, but it's in the temple pamphlet...
Recommended for: Access:
Nearby: Uchiya Kanbayashi 三星園上林三入 (220m), Uji-jinja 宇治神社 (340m), Kōshō-ji 興聖寺 (480m)
External links: Website, ウィキペディア, Wikipedia, Wikipédia, Kyoto Navi, Trip Advisor, Kyoto Design, 京都風光, Inside Kyoto, Marutake, そうだ京都, Satellite view, Map
Keywords: Japan, 日本, Japon, Kyoto, 京都, 宇治, Uji, 平等院, Byodo-in, temple, 寺院, 仏閣, UNESCO world heritage