Second Tallest Bronze Buddha in Japan: Viewing the Inside and Outside of the Daibutsu Kamakura
Updated: Jan 15
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The Great Buddha
Situated at Sagami Bay 1 hour (31 miles) south of Tokyo lies the760 year old prestigious, and iconic 大仏 Daibutsu or The Great Buddha of 鎌倉Kamakura. Measuring a towering 44 feet high and a staggering 186,000 pounds, this colossal national treasureis serenely seated on the Kotokuin grounds, and it was originally casted in 1252 during the Kamakura Period. This historical casting is recorded in the 13 century Japanese chronicle named Azuma kagami, which translates as the Mirror of the East. At the time, Kamakura was the capital of Japan. The Great Buddha is regarded the second tallest bronze statue in Japan greatly surpassed by the Nara Daibutsu, which is housed in the TodaijiTemple. The Nara Daibutsu measures an astounding 50 feet andan inconceivable 242,000 pounds—56,000 pounds heavier than the Kamakura Daibutsu.
Originally, the statute was wooden and housed in a large templehall; however, in the 14th century, the temple was destroyed by a mighty storm. The temple was rebuilt, but was destroyed in the 15th century when a violent tsunami annihilated the temple. After those two disasters, the Japanese people decided to leave the statue in Kotoku-in’s open courtyard.
Then in 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake violently struck the Great Buddha thus destroying its base. The statue was rebuilt in 1925. Kotokuin is attributed to the Jodo sect that was created by Honen, a Buddhist priest.
History of Kamakura
From 1183-1333, (Kamakura Period), Samurai was born. The Japanese Samurai government also known as the Shogonateswere created by Minamoto no Yoritomo. They ruled Kamakuraat the time. The city was residence of the Hojo clan. The shogonates were eventually overthrown and the capital became Kyoto. Then a series of events transpired leading to the transfer of the capital to Tokyo in 1603 by a clan of Tokugawa. For more information about the Samurai period, visit my article on the Samurai museum in Tokyo.
The Making of the Daibutsu Kamakura
The significant amount of time and energy devoted to creating the Great Buddha is unfathomable. Before making any sculpture, the artist must have the original design model. Once the model has been obtained, the artist will apply hard sand to the model creating a mold. Vents are created into the mold to allow for the molten metal to enter. If you look closely at the back of the Great Buddha there are two large vents. Perhaps that was deliberately created to allow for the bronze metal to enter into it. Nevertheless, once the sand is applied to the the mold, a top covers it, and its frame is turned over. The top is eventually taken off and a layer of wax and oil based clay called plasticineis applied to the model. Later on, the plasticine is removed and the frame of the front and the back of the sculpture is assembled. Following this procedure, the molten bronze created from a blistering and overwhelming temperature of 1100 degrees is poured into the mold. When the mold becomes rigid, the hard sand is removed and the bronze starts to appear on the sculpture. Acids and chemicals are poured upon it. Following this event, the sculpture undergoes several stages of polishing until it is near perfection.
When you study the engineering aspect of modeling and sculpture building, you can appreciate the hard work and time the artist invested in meticulously creating a beautiful sculpture.
The Significance of the Great Buddha
Prior to explicating the significance of the Great Buddha, it is important to understand the term Buddha. The term Buddha means “awaken.” The Japanese “Daibutsu” translates as “Great Buddha.” What does the Great Buddha represent? Some say that the statue is actually a Buddhist monk named Dharmakara. Others say the Great Buddha symbolizes Amida Nyorai.
Regardless, when you study a portrait or sculpture, there is a myriad of symbology figuratively written all over it. The proverb that a picture is worth a 1000 words rings true in our minds when we study magnificent pieces of art. That being said, there is a great significance of the Great Buddha.
Sitting Posture- This stance signifies a meditation stance.
Spiral hair– the 656 curly hair on the Great Buddha signifies the Prince Siddhartha, who according to Legend, tied his hair into a knot. When his hair was cut, the hair spiraled up creating curls.
The Nikkei or spiral bump on the front head of the Buddha signifies that Buddha is omniscient or all knowing.
The circular bump on the head of the Buddha represents Buddahis all wise.
On the fore head of the Buddha there is a silver that represents all seeing.
The elongated ear on the Great Buddha signifies Buddah is all hearing. When you reflect the gigantic size of the Great Buddha, it is easy to be mesmerized by it. In fact, when you think about the Great Buddha’s ear measuring 6 feet and 2 inches, it is startling to think that the ear is larger than most people. I am slightly taller than the ear.
Serene face and half closed eyes
The Buddah’s serene face and half closed eyes reveal the Buddah’s placid nature.
Viewing the Great Buddha from the Inside
One cool aspect about this statue is you have an opportunity to pay 20 yen to go inside the hollow temple. There are plastics inside the statue that are utilized to reinforce the statue’s neck. There is even a reconstruction plan that you can read inside the statue. As you marvel over the intricacy of this impressive craftsmanship, you cannot help to think about the significant amount of time and energy devoted to its construction. This particular Buddha was casted in 30 different stages due in part to its immense size, which adds significantly to the complexity of the statue. There is a particular method of attachment that was used to keep the patterns together like glue. The method is called ikarakura. Although much of the statue is unscathed, there was a renovation completed on the Buddah statue to ensure its preservation. That project involved the installation of both fortified plastic ERP was gently applied to the neck of the statue. A stainless steel plate was installed between the pedestal and the base of the statue. While inside the Buddha, you may be bothered by the sweltering temperatures, which are almost unbearable in the summer time.
Once I viewed the inside of the Great Buddha, I observed the backside of the statue. There were two giant size windows that were supposedly designed to abate the heat inside the statue. I cannot fathom what the temperature would be like inside the statue if the windows were not present.
Wara Zori Straw Sandals
Hanging on the wall next to the Great Buddha is a gigantic pair of traditional Japanese straw sandles called wara zori sandals for the Buddha. The sandals weigh 99 pounds. The wara zorisandals were contributed by the Matsuzaka Children’s Club (from the Ibaraki prefecture) in 1951. During the Kamakura period and before that time, many Buddhist people traveled by foot. The sandals are representative of peace for safe travels. There was the hope that one day Buddha would don the sandals in Kamakura.
The great significance of the Great Buddha is undoubtelyvividly displayed on post cards, magnets, beer bottles, candybars, and so forth. This monumental statue has placed a permanent stamp in Kamakura as being a very popular attraction for tourists all over the world.
Kangetsu do Hall
Behind the Great Buddha is the kangetsu do hall.
Ritualistic Cleansing Area
Prior to observing the Great Buddha, there is a ritualistic cleansing station. According to tradition, it is customary for Buddhist to cleanse themselves before entering a shrine or observing the Great Buddha, for instance. There are large metal spoons that you use to dip into a pool of water and pour over your hands.
Thailand’s Influence in Japan
Thailand has had a great influence in Japanese culture. Evidence of this influence is gathered when you find the pine tree that was replanted by the Japanese Ambassador to Japan in 2010. The original pine tree was planted by Rama VI in 1902.
The Kokokuin temple area opens at 7:30 a.m., and closes at 17:30.
The entrance fee is 200 yen or $1.80. I have been to view the Great Buddha six times while living in Japan. The second day I saw the statue, I hit the jackpot. When I handed a staff my 1000 yen, I was given a rare 2000 yen bill. I was very impressed, for I have been collecting foreign currency for years.
How to Get to the Great Buddha
Train: The Great Buddha is about 5-10 minutes from the HaseTrain Station. If you are riding in the Enoden Railway line(Enoshima Electric Railway) bound for Fujisawa, Hase station is the third stop from Kamakura.
Bus: You can take the Enoshima-detentsu bus (departs from Bus terminal 1) or the Keikyu bus (departs from bus terminal #6) to the Daibutsu mae bus stop. Once you exit the bus after a 10 minute, proceed to the East exit of the Kamakura station. From the station, the travel time by foot to the Great Kamakura is about 23 minutes or 1.1 miles.
If you have a whole day to spare, you can purchase the one day Enoden pass. Here is the website for additional information about the pass.
4-2-28, Hase, Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture 248-0016, Japan Phone：0467－22－0703 Fax：0467－22－5051
-2-28 Hase, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0016 〒248-0016 神奈川県鎌倉市長谷4丁目2番28号