This fall, something special is happening in Kyoto. The famous Byodoin Temple (that’s the World Heritage Site on the 10-yen coin) is opening its doors to the public for an exclusive VIP event that features exquisite green tea, gourmet dining and traditional music and dance. Two other smaller events will also be taking place.
1. Premium Kyo-kaiseki Dining Experience
This once-in-a-lifetime Premium Kyo-kaiseki Dining experience will be held for just four nights, from October 18th - 21st, with a maximum of 20 guests allowed to attend each session. Both domestic and international visitors are expected to participate.
The Premium Kyo-kaiseki Dining event invites guests to partake in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, as an authentic cultural encounter. On the menu is high-grade Uji matcha green tea—and an unforgettable lesson in tea culture.
Dinner, prepared bento-style by a local chef, provides an opportunity to taste Kyoto-style kaiseki, or kyo-kaiseki, a special kind of kaiseki cuisine that pairs perfectly with tea, or ocha. Kaiseki-ryori is part of the culinary heritage of the country, and Kyoto in particular. This feast is designed to be enjoyed, of course, within the beautiful precincts of Byodoin Temple.
Byodoin Temple is located in Uji, a region of Kyoto that is world renowned for its tea. The temple has almost 1,000 years of history and is registered as a World Heritage Site. Established in the Heian period, Byodoin played a key role in the spread of Buddhism in Japan; the name Byodoin actually expresses the principle that the salvation of Buddhism is equally available to all people.
One of the most prominent buildings in the temple complex is the Phoenix Hall, or Amida-do Hall, in which you will find a 2.77-meter-tall Amida Buddha. This statue, completed in 1053, is the work of an artist called Jocho-san, who was said to be the best Buddhist sculptor in Japanese history. It is the Phoenix Hall that is actually on the 10-yen coin!
Byodoin is not usually accessible outside of general daytime visits—so the possibility of sitting down to enjoy kyo-kaiseki for dinner there is just incredible. As part of the evening’s festivities, guests will be given a special viewing of the temple by the chief priest himself. This includes the normally off-limits Yorinan Shoin, a residence within the grounds of Jodoin Temple—one of the sub-temples at Byodoin. Guests can also expect a twirl around the garden and Hoshokan Museum, guided by an expert attendant, and a taste of gagaku—ancient Japanese Imperial Court music and dance.
The Premium Kyo-kaiseki Dining experience will feature high-quality matcha in the world, hand-selected by a tea professional at the temple. You can take the memories home with you, too—the matcha can be purchased at the venue, which is the tea shop of the temple.!
Guests on this VIP experience will be accompanied by an English interpreter for the duration of the evening, to ensure they don’t miss a thing.
2. Special Night Viewing of Byodoin with Premium Tea Experience
Over the same dates of October 18th - 21st, another event will also be taking place at Byodoin Temple. Visitors will be able to enjoy a special viewing of the garden and Hoshokan Museum, with the historical Phoenix Hall lit up and gagaku music playing in the background.
As part of a special combined package that ensures priority admission to Byodoin Temple, guests will be able to take part in a premium tea experience at the nearby Nakamura Tokichi Honten Byodoin Store. The number of participants for this package is limited to just 40 people each evening.
3. Manpukuji Temple Fucha Dining & Tea Ceremony Experience
For one day only, on October 21st, at the nearby Obaku-san Manpukuji Temple, a family-friendly tea ceremony and dining experience will be offered to the public. Between 11 am and 3:45 pm, a limited number of participants will be able to sample classic fucha-ryori—an alternative take on the Buddhist shojin ryori style of cuisine. This kind of traditional vegetarian Japanese food is hard to find! The experience includes a traditional Japanese tea ceremony—but if one is not enough, you can take part in two more tea ceremonies (without a meal) over the course of the day!
Manpukuji Temple was founded in 1661 by the Chinese Zen Buddhist Ingen Zenji, as a sister temple to Wanfu Temple in Fujian, China. It is one of the few Chinese-style temples in Japan, and was built with Sumatran teak. Ingen Zenji is credited with the contribution of many things to Japan, including in the realms of medicine, art, printing, sencha green tea and Buddhist cuisine.
The fucha ryori meal will be served in an elegant part of Manpukuji Temple that is not usually open to the public, and will be paired with a variety of premium Japanese teas. Guests will have the chance to engage with temple priests, well-respected tea merchants, tea ceremony masters and other leaders associated with Manpukiji Temple and Byodoin Temple—making it a must for anyone interested in Japanese culture.
Preserving Japanese Tea Culture
Already contending with a number of challenges, Japanese tea farmers have been significantly impacted by the covid pandemic, and there is concern nationwide that tea culture is at risk of being lost. Without action, such as the curation of these special events, the future is uncertain. It’s not only the tea industry that stands to benefit, however; a portion of proceeds will also be donated to Byoudouin Temple and Obakuzan Manpukuji Temple, to help protect their cultural heritage.
The three special experiences have been arranged in partnership with the Uji City Tourism Association, Kyoto Prefecture and Uji City governments, Kyoto Prefecture Tea Industry Chamber, Byodoin Temple, Obakuzan Manpukuji Temple, Uji Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Kyoto Yamashiro Regional Promotion Company and Keihan Holdings.