The Great Buddha of Kamakura

The Great Buddha of Kamakura is a monumental outdoor bronze statue of Amitābha Buddha located at the Kōtoku-in Temple in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. The bronze statue probably dates from 1252, in the Kamakura period, according to temple records.


That wooden statue was damaged by a storm in 1248, and the hall containing it was destroyed, so Jōkō suggested making another statue of bronze, and the huge amount of money necessary for this and for a new hall was raised for the project.


The hall was destroyed by a storm in 1334, was rebuilt, and was damaged by yet another storm in 1369, and was rebuilt yet again. The last building housing the statue was washed away in the tsunami of September 20, 1498, during the Muromachi period.


The Great Buddha is seated in the lotus position with his hands forming the Dhyani Mudra, the gesture of meditation. With a serene expression and a beautiful backdrop of wooded hills, the Daibutsu is a truly spectacular sight.


Originating in China, this sect gained prominence in Japan in the 12th century and remains very popular today. The central teaching is that through devotion to Amida Buddha, expressed through mantras and sincerity of heart, one will go to the Pure Land or “Western Paradise” after death – a pleasant realm from which it is easy to attain nirvana.


An earthquake in Sept 1923 destroyed the base of the Buddha but did not damage the body. The base was repaired in 1926, and subsequently in 1960-61, after which it was rebuilt to allow the body of the Buddha to move independently of the base in the event of a future earthquake.


The first Buddha image, taking five years to complete, was a wooden one of unknown dimensions (though probably somewhat comparable to the present image). An enormous wooden hall was constructed around it in 1243. After a storm damaged the image in 1248, Idanono-Tsubone and Joko proposed to cast the image in bronze.


An interesting record of the Buddha image is found in the journals of Captain John Saris (1580-1643), the English Captain who was the first to reach Japan in 1613 on board The Clove.

Buddha in Kamakura

Famous Great Buddha bronze statue in Kamakura, Kotokuin Temple.

Note that Saris’ voyage was the first expedition sponsored by the English to reach the country, although the Englishman William Adams had previously visited Japan while in command of a Dutch ship.


A unique aspect of the statue is that, since it is hollow, visitors can actually go inside the sacred monument. For a small donation of 20 yen, visitors are permitted enter the Buddha and see from the inside how it was cast.


The Great Buddha Statue we see today in the Temple is the one made at that time, though the exactly time of completion remains obscure. The Statue was originally housed in a large wooden building like the one in Todaiji.


However, it was caught in another storm in 1335 and the building was completely ruined. The Kamakura Shogunate had fallen two years earlier and the area was still a battlefield between the new-comers and the remnants of the Hojo troops. When the typhoon hit the area, no fewer than 500 samurai of the Hojos sought refuge in the building.


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