Phoenix Hall and the Heian Period

Title: Front view of Phoenix Hall; architect: Regent Yorimichi Fujiwara; date: 11th century; materials: wood, bronze, and gold; location: Uji, Japan

This project focuses both the Heian period and Phoenix Hall and aims to show how the many different key architectural features of the temple as well as the important sculptures and art inside the building are directly representing styles from the Heian period. Phoenix Hall can still be visited today in its original form, so you can take a journey back in time and see the importance of the Heian period on Japanese culture, art, and architecture with your own eyes. After mainly focusing on the Heian period in general for my midterm, I realized that the majority of my examples of art and architecture from the time period had a connection to Phoenix Hall. This inspired me to shift my focus and research more on the temple and I thought that explaining many key facts from the Heian period would be more easily understood through one example. Any time that I travel to a new place, I have always loved learning about the history of different buildings and significant locations, so I enjoyed researching Phoenix Hall and being able to learn about the history of Japanese architecture, art, culture, religion, and so much more through this one historical building. Additionally, after the feedback I received from my classmates following my midterm presentation, I understood that it would be easier to narrow down my topic a bit. 

At the beginning of my presentation, I discussed important facts and background information about the Heian period, but I spent more time talking about Phoenix Hall. On slide four, I chose a front view of the temple in order to point out key features of the architecture and allude to the importance of the art that was inside of the temple that I talked about later in the presentation. I pointed out the key architectural features like the upcurved roof, the pond garden, the use of red and gold, and the beams which were all significant to the Heian period. The pond garden was discussed in further detail on the next slide, but it was an important style from the period as well as the shinden-zukuri style which was the inspiration for Phoenix Hall. Shinden-zukuri is landscape architecture where the goal is to bring the landscape into the living area. Before Phoenix Hall became a temple, it was actually a country palace for the famed Fujiwara Clan before being converted to a temple to house Amida Nyorai in 1052.

Title: detail of Buddha image seated on lotus; artist: Jocho; date: 1053; materials: wood, gold leaf; location: Phoenix Hall, Uji, Japan

I chose to show the front view of Phoenix Hall for this slide because you can also clearly see the left and right wings, the Chudo (central hall), and the tall corridor which is meant to look like the body and wings of a Phoenix. You can even see the two gold phoenix birds on top of the roof in the center of the temple. Every feature I pointed out in this slide is either discussed in more detail later on in the presentation or is the physical location of the art that is discussed later on, which is why I chose this image. As I mentioned before, the main goal of this presentation is for the audience to understand how this one building holds so much value to the Heian period and shows so many different aspects of Japanese architecture and art from this time period. It is important to look at how each individual aspect and art is unique, but together they all create a much deeper understanding of the Heian period. 

Byōdō-in | Discover Kyoto

Title: Pond Garden; architect: Regent Yorimichi Fujiwara; date: 11th century; materials: water source from the stream, rocks, artificial hill, seasonal flowers; location: Phoenix Hall, Uji, Japan

The first image that I showed was of Phoenix Hall, which I just previously discussed. It is made of wood, bronze, and gold which were three important materials during the Heian period. The building is red, which was a color that was used often at this time as well. As mentioned earlier, the architectural style of the temple was shinden-zukuri style (landscape architecture) and the upcurved roof is a signature style of the Heian period. Phoenix Hall also is an example of a common theme during the Heian period which was an escape from city life. Located just southeast of the city of Kyoto, it was originally a getaway for members of the Fujiwara clan. It was actually designed and built by one of the members of the family, Regent Yorimichi Fujiwara. The following images that I will be explaining are all important aspects of Phoenix Hall. The Pond Garden was the next image presented and it is a representation of Buddhist Pure Land beliefs, is important to the shinden-zukuri architectural style, and is a key feature of the Phoenix Hall grounds. The six key elements that make the pond garden what it is is a large pond, seasonal flower plants, a water supply (in this case it was a nearby stream), stone arrangements (which can be seen closer to the temple), artificial hills, and background landscapes (the Asahi-yama mountain is in the background of Phoenix Hall). In the presentation, each key element is labeled on the image. 

Title: sculptures of bodhisattvas on floating clouds at the Byodoin; artist: unknown; date: 11th century; materials: wood; location: Phoenix Hall, Uji, Japan

The artist of the sculptures in the next image is unknown, but the Bodhisattvas sculptures that are located inside the temple are of great religious importance. A Bodhisattva is a person who has been able to reach nirvana but doesn’t actually do so so that they can save those who are suffering. These hand carved sculptures are made of wood and there are a total of 52 statues in the temple and there are many that encircle the statue of Amida Nyorai, which is the next image I showed. The title of the image is “detail of Buddha image seated on lotus” and it was created by a famous Japanese artist, Jocho, in 1053. It is a wooden sculpture that is covered with gold leaf. When the Regent Yorimichi Fujiwara converted his family’s country palace into Phoenix Hall in 1052, this sculpture was one of the main reasons why he did so. The temple was to enshrine this sculpture and both Phoenix Hall and the Amida Nyorai became national treasures. The final image that I showed was an example of one of the Yamato-e paintings that can be found on the doors and walls in Phoenix Hall. The title of the one I chose was “Kuhon Raiko-zu”. These paintings connect nature and religion using thick, bright pigments on scroll. These were very large paintings, as they were done on walls and doors as I mentioned before. 

the paintings | Learn about Byodoin | World Heritage Byodoin

Title: Kuhon Raiko-zu; artist: unknown; date: 1052; materials: thick pigments, scroll; location: Phoenix Hall, Uji, Japan

In all of the examples that I showed in this presentation, there is great historical context in general because the temple and most of the art inside was from the Heian period (794-1186) and the temple itself was converted to the state it is in today in 1052. The materials that were used (wood, gold, bronze, and the use of red) all tie directly back to the Heian period where these were very commonly used. The purpose of the original building was to be a country palace for the Fujiwara clan as an escape from city life. As we read in the Kidder textbook, it became very popular around this time period to enjoy time with nature away from the bustle of the city. The pond garden is a feature that really ties all of this together, as well as the architectural style that was used for the building of Phoenix Hall: shinden-zukuri style, as mentioned earlier. The artist who created the statue of Amida Nyorai, Jocho, was a very important artist during the Heian period and it is important to note that it was his sculpture that is on display in the Chondo of Phoenix Hall. The Amida Nyorai is a very important figure and symbol of Pure Land Buddhism, which is a branch of the religion. Many people who go to Phoenix Hall today want to see this sculpture for its religious importance. Overall, inside of the temple you can see that there is a significant religious presence with the sculpture of Amida Nyoria and the Bodhisattvas sculptures as well and outside, the landscape and gardens are meant to be the place where one finds enlightenment. The texts seem to provide good general information, but I rarely saw all of the elements that I discussed in my presentation brought together in one place. However, there is always great detail on the importance of each aspect to the culture and religion of Japan. I took it a step further to connect each aspect to one place, which is Phoenix Hall. I think that to the general tourist who visits Phoenix Hall these days, they might only simply understand the historical importance of this space, but for someone who can dive a little deeper, you can truly see historical Japan as well as the culture and religion that is tied to this place. 

Japan-ness to me is the culmination of the uniqueness of Japanese culture and religion throughout history and it can be beautifully shown through art and architecture. This was what I tried to show in my project. Phoenix Hall is a grand example of Japanese culture and architecture from an important historical time period. Inside the temple, you can see amazing art and sculptures that are rooted in religion. Each aspect of Phoenix Hall brings out a different aspect of Japan and all together, they show what Japan-ness is. 


Artstor. “Artstor.” Accessed May 9, 2023.

“絵画 Painting.” the paintings | Learn about Byodoin | World Heritage 

Byodoin. Accessed May 9, 2023.

“Byōdō-In.” Discover Kyoto. Accessed May 9, 2023.

Artincontext. “Japanese Architecture – Discover Traditional Architecture in 

Japan.”, August 31, 2022.

Bricker, Tom. “Byodoin Temple Review, Info & Tips.” Travel Caffeine, May 23, 


Jocho, (Heian period). (1053). Amida Nyorai, detail of Buddha 

image seated on lotus. Retrieved from

(from 1052 (Heian period)). Kyoto: Byodoin Temple(Phoenix 

Hall) general view. Retrieved from


Kidder textbook, pages 116-175

Author: Hope Olson

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