Five Grand Buddhas of Japan
Japan, like much of Asia, has a strong Buddhist presence for over a thousand years. This long relationship with the eightfold-path has lead to some amazing works of art and architecture popping up all over Japan, some of them quite large. It's easy to imagine huge temples, such as Sensoji (the oldest temple in Tokyo), but possibly more astounding are Japan’s giant statues of Buddha. In Japanese, they use the phrase Daibutsu (大仏), or “Great Buddha,” to describe these statues of epic proportions. Let’s take a look at five of these metal monoliths.
1. The Great Buddha of Todaiji
Located in Nara, Todaiji (東大寺, “Eastern Great Temple”) houses the Rushana Butsuzou. Rushanabutsu is a shortening of "Birushanabutsu,” which means Vairocana (a celestial Buddha) in Sanskrit. The teachings of this Buddha are of universal truth as a guide to spiritual enlightenment.
Constructed in 752 CE, the statue stands 14.98 meters (49 ft 2 in) tall. Peering down at his patrons, the Buddha is said to have a kindly expression, like that of a Pikachu.
2. The Great Buddha of Kamakura
Kamakura is often called the ‘Old Capital’ because before Kyoto was the capital of Japan, that title actually belonged to Kamakura. Here, just a short walk from Kamakura Station, you can find Kotokuji, the home of Amidanyorai, based on Amitābha in Sanskrit. The meaning of his name is “limitless light, limitless life.” The Buddha sits at 11.39 meters tall (37 feet).
One of the most interesting parts of the history of the Great Buddha of Kamakura is that its origin is unknown. The date of its construction and the craftsmen that brought the statue into the world remain unknown. In fact, they actually made this Buddha hollow, and you are allowed to go inside of it.
Originally the statue was housed in a temple call called a Daibutsuden, but that hall was washed away by a tsunami in 1495 CE. This may be why this Buddha has a more severe expression, like that of a Bulbasaur.
3. The Great Buddha of Gifu
Gifu, located centrally in the main island of Japan, at the Shoboji temple holds another of the Great Buddhas. Having been made in 1832 CE, this Buddha is considered relatively new. This Buddha is named Shakanyorai, and is a patron for those who have died in disasters, such as earthquakes and tsunami.
Shakanyorai stands at 13.63 meters, and his face is formed with a deeply kind expression to soothe his weary guests.
4. Ushiku Daibutsu
Located just north of Narita Airport in Ushiku, Ibaraki, you can find the Ushiku Daibutsu. When the statue was built in 1992, it was actually the largest statue in the world. Presently, it is the third largest statue in the world, but still remains the largest bronze statue.
Because of the statue’s location, the best way of reaching the Ushiku Daibutsu is perhaps by car rental (which is very easy and inexpensive in Japan, and you can do it with an international driver’s permit). The statue is hard to miss, standing 120 meters (394 feet) tall, and is located about an hour’s drive from Tokyo.
Once you arrive at the statue site, there is a relaxing walk from the parking lot to the feet of the Buddha. From the back, you can enter an elevator that will take you eight stories up within the Buddha. Within it is a small museum about the construction of the Buddha, along with a great collection of Buddhist art. There are also windows on the chest of the Buddha allowing you a great view of the horizon below.
The magnitude of the Ushiku Daibutsu is supposed to be both awe-inspiring and solemn.
5. The Great Buddha of Kamagaya
After visiting the Ushiku Daibutsu in Ibaraki you can make your way down to Chiba to visit the Kamagaya Daibutsu. The Kamagaya Daibutsu also pays homage to Shakanyorai, the same Buddha from Shoboji, in Gifu. This statue was constructed in 1776 CE and is the smallest presented in this article, standing at 1.8 meters (5 foot 9 inches). However, the choice of size for this Daibutsu (yes, this is still a Great Buddha) was intentional. The lesson of this statue is that the size of the body does not reflect the size of the soul.