by
on December 26, 2017 on 12/26/17

Kamakura and the Daibutsu

This week, my study abroad program organized a trip to Kanagawa prefecture. To give you a sense of Japan’s geography, Kanagawa is south of Tokyo. The capital of Kangawa is Yokohama, a beautiful port city.  Our destination was Kamakura.

Kamakura is a seaside city known for its ancient Buddhist and Shinto shrines. Walking down a quiet street outside the vicinity of the city’s center, I saw a long stone stairway leading to a small Shinto shrine.  The stairs were steep and overgrown with moss and other foliage, and the surrounding trees were veiled in a thick net of spiderwebs.

Seemingly hidden shrines such as these are scattered throughout the city. Kamakura is also known as the former seat of the Shogunate during the Kamakura Period. The Shogunate was a military government system that ruled alongside the emperor, while de facto bearing all of the political power. This system of government came to be known as the Bakufu (幕府), the direct translation of which is “tent government.” The military leaders of the time commanded and strategized their battles out of tent. The tent was by all means the leader’s dwelling place and administrative headquarters, and so the tent became symbolic of martial rule.

The main attraction in Kamakura is Taiizan Kotokuin Shojosenji (大異山高徳院清浄泉寺) a Buddhist temple that houses the “Great Buddha” or Daibutsu (大仏). The Daibutsu is a large bronze statue–the second largest monument of Buddha in Japan–constructed out of bronze.

Though I had previously seen photos, this did not diminish my amazement with the size of the Daibutsu. The statue is approximately 37 feet tall (11.4m) and towers over those in its presence. For a small fee (I believe 30 yen, which is approximately .25 USD), you can gain entry into the monument. Once they pay their fee, tourists are led into a small doorway (anyone above 5’8″ in height must duck, lest they hit their heads) and then up a narrow spiral staircase leading to the center of the statue. The inside was humid and echoed like a cave.

In this picture, you can see the Buddha’s hollow head and the rear windows, presumably for ventilation.

Here, the intricate and advanced welding techniques are visible. The statue itself is composed of thirty, large parts, held together by this less than primitive welding technique, which has proved to be incredibly durable through time. For instance, a pamphlet I picked up upon entry to the temple states that in 1335 a tsunami destroyed the temple in which the statue was housed, yet the Daibutsu remained standing. In 1498 the area was affected simultaneously by an earthquake and a tsunami, and again the temple was destroyed while the Daibutsu remained standing. And finally, in 1923, after the Great Kanto Earthquake, though the Daibutsu’s base was damaged, the statue remained.

The trip was long but presented an interesting look into the religious (and I use this term hesitantly) cultural underpinnings of Japanese culture. The statue is revered by many and boasts consistent traffic from both natives and tourists. I hope to visit the sites of the other Daibutsu statues while in Japan.