The Importance of Kamakura’s Daibutsu
One of the largest tourist destinations in the Kanto area is the Kotoku-in temple of Kamakura. Here every year tourists from all over the world arrive in order to witness the 13.35 meter (43.8 feet) tall Buddha. Besides being the tallest Buddha statute in the Kanagawa prefecture the Buddha also has a very rich history that most visitors are not familiar with.
The giant statue represents the Buddha Amida. A monk turned Buddha who is widely celebrated in the Pure Land (Jodo) form of Buddhism. Weighing 121 tons the Buddha we now see is actually a recreation of an earlier statue. Originally the great Buddha of Kamakura was built from wood in 1243. The wood statue was surrounded by a hall, but three years later a storm devastated the area. The hall was destroyed and the buddha was damaged. After the damages from the storm funds were raised to build a new hall and the bronze buddha was also built. The two finished construction around 1252.
Creating the statue was no small feat, especially for its time. The statue was created during the rule of the Kamakura shogunate. This was a time when Samurais were emerging in Japan. Japanese feudalism was being established during this era. So, creating a giant bronze statue required not only one of the leading casters of the time, but also an all new method to casting the metal. The statue was cast in 30 separate stages. Molds of the statue were placed on top of each other. The new method created to connect the pieces is called “ikarakuri”. The original statue was covered in gold, but due to technology restraints of the time gold leaves were attached to the body rather than plating the statue in gold. If you look closely at the statue’s ear you can still see remnants of the gold leafs.
Storms continued to take it’s toll on the area, forcing the hall that surrounded the buddha to be rebuilt several times. Finally in 1498, a tsunami struck the area and the Buddha has been in the open air ever since. Although the statue has been reinforced to withstand earthquake damage it has largely been a solid piece showcasing the amazing capability of architecture during the Kamakura Period of Japan. One such example of the earthquake reinforcements are plastic beams inside the statue. The plastic surrounds the neck, reinforcing the head and ensuring it doesn’t break off someday.
Today you can visit the Buddha and not only take pictures alongside it, but also enter the giant bronze statue. Although the rules are few, when visiting the Daibutsu keep in mind what the notice at the entrance states “Stranger, whosoever thou art and whatsoever be thy creed, when thou enterest this sanctuary remember thou treadest upon ground hallowed by the worship of ages. This is the Temple of Buddha and the gate of the eternal, and should therefore be entered with reverence.”
Note: Photography courtesy of FANTiM.COM