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Visiting Byodo-In Temple, Kahaluu, Hawaii

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The Byodo-In Temple at Valley of the Temples on the Windward side of Oahu has been one of my favorite spots to visit ever since my first trip to Hawaii. It’s actually a scale replica of a nearly thousand year old temple in Japan, but it’s beautiful in its own right. I went back again this past Wednesday because I really wanted to take some better photos (now that I’m starting to have a clue about what to do with my camera!). If you’re looking for a few travel tips and advice about visiting Byodo-In, just bear with me for a second or skip down a little bit. =)

Besides actually learning about the settings on my camera, two things that have helped me most in my ongoing journey to improve my photography are shooting with intention and realizing that photos don’t have to be “photorealistic.” If you switch your camera on and just hit the button, the 1/2500 of a second snapshot of what’s before you probably doesn’t convey the same emotional response, connection, or emotion as what’s actually before your eyes. It may well be a very accurate representation of how things looked in that tiny fraction of a second, but it doesn’t convey how what the scene really is and how it feels.

Byodo-In Temple Hawaii

The picture above is a little dark when scaled down to fit my blog’s width, but it does such a better job of capturing the atmosphere than the photo below (taken in March 2014).

byodo-in temple 2014

This older picture is a pretty typical tourist shot that looks a lot like what you’ll see if you look the temple up on various review sites. It may very well be a more accurate portrayal of the temple at a specific moment, but it doesn’t carry an emotional impact.

But enough of that! Let’s move on to what to expect if you visit Byodo-In near Kaneohe. I’ve been at least four times and I’ve learned that arriving early is key if you want to get a few photos or spend a relaxing moment in contemplation. The most recent time I visited the website said the temple opened at 9 am, but then a sign at the Valley of the Temples said it opened at 8:30 that day. There is an admission charge (only $3 for adults), so bring some small bills. Especially early in the day, they don’t like taking larger bills. Because the temple is at the rear of the Valley of the Temples memorial park and there is security, your car should be much safer here than at many other spots in Hawaii. (Hawaii is, sadly, known for car break ins, which is something to keep in mind if you’re planning a vacation here!). The temple is a stop on the tour bus routes, which is why I go as close to opening as I can. By the time I left around 11 am last Wednesday, there were two buses worth of folks with selfie sticks between the path and view of the temple.

In addition to the temple, there is also a bell you can ring, a gazebo area, some really cool bamboo, a gift shop, a memorial wall, numerous statues, and several waterfalls, bridges, and other water features.

byodo-in temple waterfall

byodo-in temple waterfall 3The temple bills itself as a “non practicing Buddhist temple,” but there are people who worship here and they do ask that you remove your shoes when entering the temple. This may be something to keep in mind. There isn’t much hiking around to do (some walking, but nothing crazy and there are paths!), so you might want to choose slip on footwear so you’re not balancing on one foot and struggling with your hiking boots to take a look inside.

remove your shoes

The gift shop is nice and they frequently have ribbon leis for sale, so it’s a good place to pick up a lei souvenir that you can bring home with you! Leis are also used in commemoration, so people hang them in memorial.

memorial lei

If quiet contemplation isn’t really your thing, there is usually a peacock strutting around, and there are black swans in the ponds along with hundreds of Japanese koi carp. You can pick up some food at the gift shop and see how many coy you attract! There are also beautiful native species and plenty of flowers to look at.

pink hibiscus

When you’re planning a visit, you have to remember to be flexible and, if it’s on your must-see list, don’t put off going to Byodo-In Temple until your last day on the island. The temple is used for events (it’s a popular spot for weddings!) and they do have to perform maintenance. I’ve never seen the temple outright closed when I visited, but sometimes areas will be closed off. I’ve only experienced someone weed-eating and a volunteer clearing the grass from a rock garden, but my family found the entire pond drained and people cleaning the bottom when they visited!

cleaning the rocksAlso, bear in mind that the temple is near the mountains on the Windward side, which means it sees quite a bit of rain. Even if it’s bright and sunny in Honolulu, consider bringing an umbrella over the mountains with you! Just make sure to leave the beach balls behind – this is a place for contemplation and memorial, not running around. That being said, I’ve seen plenty of children enjoying the site. They love ringing the giant bell and feeding the fish!

memorial wall

With a low admission price, beautiful photo ops, and great spots to spend some time thinking, I think Byodo-In Temple is a “must visit” location on Oahu. I hope you have the opportunity to visit and enjoy the experience as much as I do!byodo-in temple waterfall 2

Have you visited Byodo-In Temple? Do you have a favorite place to sit and think?



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{ 20 comments… add one }
  • Lana May 18, 2015, 05:26

    Natasha, your pictures here is really impressive! I don’t know if you change a camera or add some new skills to your multiple gifts wagon 🙂 but I LOVE the minute I clicked on your post!

    • Natashalh May 18, 2015, 08:41

      I have purchased a couple new lens filters, but the biggest thing is just learning and practicing! I have some downright awful photos with the exact same equipment because I didn’t know what I was doing.

  • Duni May 18, 2015, 06:09

    This looks like my kind of place 🙂 Love how serene everything looks! My favourite pic is the last one!

    • Natashalh May 18, 2015, 08:45

      I really love visiting and am lucky because it is right down the road! It takes about 5 minutes to get there unless traffic is bad.

  • Linda May 18, 2015, 11:17

    Beautiful gardens and temple grounds! We have an oriental garden here in Portland, not sure if it is Japanese tho. It has koi ponds and beautiful flowers. I love going there!

    • Natashalh May 18, 2015, 16:20

      I’d probably call it Japanese. =p My absolute favorite Japanese garden is actually at a museum in South Florida. It’s really amazing.

  • Rose May 18, 2015, 15:34

    What a beautiful site! I haven’t been there, but I would love to go if I ever get back to Oahu. I really enjoyed your photo tour and tips about capturing emotion.

    • Natashalh May 18, 2015, 16:19

      Thinking about what I want to convey and sort of what the story is behind a shot has helped me so much. Almost every time I take a picture just because I’m there and, hey, that looks kind of cool, I’m disappointed. When I actually think about the content and why I think it’s neat and what I want the viewer to feel, I’m much more likely to come home with something I’m happy with!

      If you do make it back to Hawaii, I really recommend checking out the Windward side. It’s much more authentic Hawaii without all the high rises and everything.

  • LeAnn May 18, 2015, 18:51

    What a beautiful and tranquil place! I like to sit and think by a quiet lake.

    • Natashalh May 18, 2015, 19:33

      Sounds beautiful! Sometimes there’s nothing better than a nice quite place outside to sit and think. =)

  • Edi May 19, 2015, 03:08

    What amazing photos! You’re really doing great with your camera! Love the close up of the flower and the waterfall! And what a great price to get in!

    • Natashalh May 19, 2015, 05:58

      With my husband gone, I’ve put a lot of effort into learning new things. I decided that if I was bored I wouldn’t just watch a random TV show on Amazon or anything, I’d find a video that taught me something new, instead. It’s really helped me in a lot of ways!

  • Judy Nolan May 19, 2015, 19:05

    Wow. This is incredible photography–and what a perfect setting for reflection! My favorite photo is the waterfall, but the opening photograph with the dark clouds is a close second. I have never visited a place like this, but would love to do so.

    • Natashalh May 20, 2015, 10:31

      It was actually really hard to not just post a huge picture gallery! It’s a good problem to have, though. Better to have too many nice shots than none, right?

      I hope you get the chance to visit somewhere as beautiful soon. =)

  • Sarah May 20, 2015, 12:08

    This looks totally amazing. I’d love to go to Hawaii one day – it looks so beautiful 🙂 Gorgeous photos too!

  • Malia May 31, 2015, 20:07

    New to your blog, so you’ll probably see me commenting more than once on here! I’ve lived in Kahalu’u for over a year now and finally went to the temple this weekend. Such a beautiful and serene place, it has definitely been my new place to come visit and will return again. Your pictures are amazing!

    • Natashalh June 1, 2015, 06:27

      Thank you! There’s a not too bad hike with a view near there, too, that we didn’t do for a very long time. There are actually large portions of the island (Ko Olina, Haliewa, etc) that we’ve never been to. Submarine schedule. =)

  • Debby Powell October 19, 2016, 13:59

    Hi Natasha,

    I visited Byodo-in Temple in September and loved it. I hope to return again and bring some people with me! Unfortunately I didn’t get there at opening. I’ll do that the next time. I took a few snapshots but nothing like what you have here. What time of day did you take the first photo with the clouds over the temple? So beautiful….

    I look forward to getting your posts!


    • Natashalh October 19, 2016, 14:03

      I took that photo just a few minutes after opening. =) It rains a lot here on Windward Oahu, so we frequently get pretty dramatic clouds! I generally find it’s better to take photos at Byodo-In in the morning, while the sunlight is hitting it instead of behind it casting shadows. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and I hope you enjoy the next time you visit the temple!

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