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The Big Buddha of Kamakura

By Paulina Sánchez |

The Big Buddha or Daibutsu of Kamakura is a giant bronze statue that’s considered a national treasure in Japan. Visit it with us!

KŌTOKU-IN TEMPLE IN JAPAN

Tokyo is full of crowded crossroads where you can see hundreds of smartphone users, concentrated on their phone screens, as if they automatically knew the right moment when to cross the street, stop or turn round a corner. As in any other great capital in the world, life in Tokyo is accelerated and the energy of the environment becomes even more intense due to the great amount of lights, colorful billboards and subcultures such as Cosplay (short for costume play; it refers to dressing as characters, mainly from manga, anime, videogames or movies). Yet, less than an hour away from Tokyo you can make a one-day excursion to the coastal city of Kamakura, in the Kanagawa prefecture, where, instantly, you’ll be surrounded by a completely different world, a peaceful and traditional one that’s perfect for meditation.

ONE DAY IN KAMAKURA

In the 12th century, Kamakura became the country’s political center, during the Minamoto Yoritomo shogunate. Nowadays it’s one of travelers’ favorite destinations thanks to its sanctuaries, temples, trekking trails and, believe or not, its beaches.

THE BIG BUDDHA OF KAMAKURA

Although there are uncountable activities you can make on this one-day tour,DINKtravelers recommends, before doing anything else, visiting Kōtoku-in Temple, where you’ll see the Big Buddha or Daibutsu of Kamakura, considered a national treasure. This monument took approximately ten years to be built, since 1252, and it represents the seating Buddha known as Amida Nyorai. Its creation was the work of cast-iron artists such as Hisatomo Tanji and Gorouemon Ohno, who were able to pay for their masterpiece with donations from the community; however, many details about its construction are a mystery.

They say that initially it was kept in a roofed hall which was completely destroyed twice; first, due to strong winds, and then, due to a tsunami that hit the city in the 14th century. We like to think that the Buddha wanted to be outdoors so that he could contemplate the landscape and his visitors, despite the consequences he’d suffer by being exposed to the weather. For example, you’ll notice that the Big Buddha of Kamakura has a similar color to the Statue of Liberty in New York. That’s because, just as the American icon, it was built in bronze, a material that turns green when exposed to rain.

There was a time when the sculpture was gold plated and, in fact, if you zoom at its ears with your camera lens, you’ll discover some remains of the gold leafs that were used to cover it. Another interesting detail is that the 43.8 feet-tall (including the base) and 267,000 pound sculpture is hollow. The good news is that you’ll be able to visit the interior so that you can see how the bronze sections were put together. Enter through the small stairway that’s located on the back base of the Buddha and then admire the hollow that gives shape to its body and head. Don’t worry, you won’t need artificial light because there are two big windows on the Buddha’s back that allow natural light to filter in.

If this Big Buddha came to life and got dressed, can you imagine the size of his clothes and shoes? Well, another curiosity you’ll find is that next to the statue there’s a roofed area where you’ll see, hanging from the wall, a pair of Buddha sandals. They’re huge! Without doubt, they’re a curious item under which you’ll certainly want to take a picture.

Sit for a while in lotus position in front of the Daibutsu and profit this time to absorb the serenity the sculpture’s face reflects. It will be the ideal moment to be grateful for the chance to travel to such a magical destination as Japan.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN KAMAKURA

After visiting the Daibutsu, discover other attractions in the city. Our favorite:

  • Gokurakuji Temple Long ago it included 50 small temples but only one remains standing. You’ll want to visit it because it houses the good fortune pavilion, which is on the verge of being listed as World Heritage by UNESCO.
  • Hokokuji Temple Locals call it the “bamboo temple” because it has an amazing bamboo forest you can visit.
  • Trekking on the Wakamiyaoji Sacred Road This trail hides under a tunnel of awe-inspiring cherry blossom trees (they bloom in spring) and leads to the Tsurugaoka Hachiman sanctuary, one of the most important in Kamakura, dedicated to the patron god of the Minamoto family and the samurai.
  • Trekking in Daibutsu Road It connects the Big Buddha of Kōtoku-in with the Jochiji Temple, one of the five big zen temples in Kamakura.

HOW TO GET TO KAMAKURA

If you have a JR Pass, simply take the JR Yokosuka line at Tokyo station or the JR Shonan Shinjuku line at Shinjuku station. Once in Kamakura you won’t need any other transport because you can go everywhere on foot.