The Land of the Great Buddhas
In the eyes of some outsiders, Japanese may seem to take a cavalier attitude toward religion, visiting at Shinto shrines for prayers at the new year, holding weddings at Christian churches and conducting their funeral rites at Buddhist temples. It must be acknowledged that few Japanese possess a strong awareness of religion in their daily lives. Nevertheless, according to statistics, some 96 million Japanese regard themselves as Buddhists. Considering there are somewhat more than 300 million Buddhists in the world, this would make Japan one of the largest Buddhist nations. Japan is home to approximately 75,000 Buddhist temples and monasteries, and more than 300,000 statues and figures of Buddha can be found around the country. Many of these statues play a major role in domestic tourism. Here, we’d like to introduce some of the largest and best known.
(1) Ushiku Daibutsu: Japan’s Largest Buddha
Height: 120 meters
Year erected: 1993
Notable features: The world’s tallest bronze statue of a human figure, as indicated in the Guinness Book of Records. It is also the world’s third highest in terms of its standing height.
Location: Ushiku-Jyoen cemetery (Ushiku City, Ibaraki Prefecture)
URL: http://daibutu.net/ (in Japanese only)
(2) Tajima Daibutsu: Comparatively New Figures in the Remote Mountains
Height: 25.3 meters
Year erected: 1994
Notable features: A total of 20,000 workers in China labored for more than three years to produce the world’s largest wooden figure, one of three at the site. Their entire surfaces are covered with gold leaf. On the south side of the hall, a 70-meter high, five-story pagoda towers looking over them.
Location: Chorakuji temple, Kami-cho, Mikata-gun, Hyogo Prefecture
URL: http://www.tajimadaibutsu.jp/eng/ (in English)
(3) The Takaoka Daibutsu: One of Japan’s Three Most Revered
Height: 15.8 meters
Year erected: 1933
Notable features: Said to be the crowning achievement of Takaoka City’s bronze craftsmen, the Takaoka Daibutsu is said by some to be one of Japan’s three great Buddhas together with those in Nara and Kamakura. However, the Great Buddha in Gifu also lays claim to this distinction.
Location: Daibutsuji temple, Takaoka City, Toyama Prefecture
URL: http://www.info-toyama.com/_sightseeing/000040.html (in Japanese only)
(4) The Daibutsu of Nara: Historic and Famous
Height: 18 meters
Year erected: 752 AD
Notable features: The joint labor of 2.6 million workers, one university professor has calculated that costs to build the Great Buddha and hall, in today’s money, would come to approximately 465.7 billion Japanese yen ($5.8billion). A designated national cultural treasure and the world’s largest wooden structure, the main hall also houses the figure of the two Kongorikishi, Agyo and Ungyo (guardians of the Buddha), and numerous other treasures, making it a famous tourist destination.
Location: Todaiji temple, Nara City, Nara Prefecture
URL: http://www.todaiji.or.jp/ (in Japanese only)
(5) The Daibutsu of Kamakura: A Famous Figure Close to Tokyo
Height: 13.3 meters
Year erected: 13th century (estimated)
Notable features: A designated national cultural treasure and awaiting recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Kamakura’s Daibutsu is regarded as the symbol of Kamakura city, although its builder and year of construction are uncertain. Along with the Great Buddha in Nara, it is considered one of Japan’s most famous. As it is located just one hour by train from Tokyo, it is a popular destination for school outings.
Location: Kotokuin temple, Kamakura City, Kanagawa Prefecture
URL: http://www.kotoku-in.jp/en/top.html/ (in English)
Other Places Worth Visiting
(6) The Daibutsu of Tokyo
Height: 12.5 meters
Year erected: 1977
Notable features: The largest figure of Buddha in Tokyo. Was built as a memorial to victims of the 1945 Tokyo Air Raids and 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake.
Location: Jorenji temple (Itabashi Ward, Tokyo)
(7) The Daibutsu of Hyogo
Height: 18 meters
Year erected: 1991
Notable features: The first great Buddha was erected here in 1891, but it was melted down for its metal content during World War II. This statue, the second incarnation, was built with donations from local supporters, citizens and businesses.
Location: Nofukuji temple (Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture)
Daibutsu is the Japanese term, often used informally, for large statues of Buddha. Buddhism was introduced to Japan by Emperor Shomu, who commissioned the construction of the Daibutsu at the Todaiji temple in Nara in 752 and propagated Buddhism as an instrument for national stability. Since then, large images of Buddha have been erected at numerous locations around Japan. While there is no height which officially qualifies a figure to be designated “daibutsu,” the Japan’s most authoritative dictionary, the Kojien, defines a daibutsu as standing higher than joroku (one mon, six shaku by the old measurement system, or about 4.85 meters).