What is the Great Buddha?
Did you know that there is a gigantic statue of Buddha in Kamakura city in the Kanagawa prefecture?
The Great Buddha was built over 800 years ago in the Kamakura period. It is 11 meters high and weighs 121 tons. Its official name is, “Kokuho Dozo Amida Nyorai Zazo,” but people call it “Kamakura-no-Daibutsu” (the Great Buddha of Kamakura) for short.
What to See?
1. The Kamakura period, when Buddhism spread to general population.
The Kamakura region is where Japan’s first shogunate was established by Minamoto Yoritomo. Kamakura made for a perfect fortress, blessed with its natural landscape and surrounded by the ocean and mountains. Kamakura served as the foundation of Samurai governments for the next 7 centuries.
One of the many remarkable parts of the Kamakura culture was how Buddhism became prevalent under the protection of the Samurai. Buddhism used to be confined to only the royal family and the aristocrats, but during the Kamakura period, its influence spread to the commoners and affected their lifestyle.
2. The teaching of Buddhism engraved on the Great Buddha.
Including the pedestal, the total height of the Great Buddha is 13.35 meters. And there are many features to be seen all over the statue.
The Buddha’s tightly curled hair is called “Rahotsu (or Rahatsu)” and is a symbol of wisdom and virtue. The white mole on his forehead is “Byakugo” and is believed to shine a holy light on people to guide their way. His eyes, described in Japanese as “Shinsho-Genso,” are as clear as blue lotuses. His beautiful smile is described as the Asian smile, which displays mercy and elegance. His huge sagging ears are called “Fuku mimi (Lucky ears),” showing that he listens to all people’s voices carefully. His hands are making a symbolic sign “Jobon-Josho-In,” which is the highest gesture in Buddhism. Also, instead of sitting up straight, he intentionally bends slightly forward to face people right in front of him.
3. Tour of the interior, learning of the ancient architecture.
Since the statue is of bronze casting, its image has not changed much since the time it was built. A good way to observe its architectural magnificence is to walk inside the statue.
How the people of the Kamakura period made such a gigantic statue? The construction of the Great Buddha still remains a mystery, and research is still in progress.
4. Kotokuin, the Buddha’s temple.
The Kotokuin Temple, where the Great Buddha is located, belongs to the Jodo sect, which was founded by a saint called Honen-Shonin. The Jodo sect preaches that any individual that chants “Namu Amida Butsu (I sincerely believe in Amitabha; Lord have mercy on me)” will be brought to the land of Perfect Bliss at the end of life.
In the Kotokuin Temple, collections of Great-Buddha-related items are exhibited. Some of the unique items include his 18-meter-long Japanese sandals, a memorial inscription commemorating the poem of Buddha by the famous poet Akiko Yosano, and more.
The Kamakura period was a time when the religious ideas of Buddhism first impacted the lifestyle of the ordinary people. The Great Buddha in Kamakura was the symbol of it.
Take one close look at his eyes, and you will notice that he does not look far away but down at your feet, to shed a merciful light on your way.