Kamakura Daibutsu (鎌倉大仏), the Great Buddha of Kamakura, is one of the most popular touristic destinations in Japan and my favourite place No. 1. The huge statue of meditating Buddha is not only visually attractive but emanates something subtle that makes the atmosphere of the temple premises calming and spiritually uplifting.
Kamakura is a town located south of Tokyo and Yokohama with beautiful beaches and surrounded by green hills. It is always full of both Japanese and foreign tourists. Kamakura used to be the capital of the Kamakura Shogunate (1185–1333) and still hosts many temples built during that period, including Kōtoku-in (高徳院) at which premises the huge statue of Buddha has been meditating for many centuries.
The statue of the Great Buddha
The height of this magnificent bronze statue is 13.35 meters. It was cast at 1252, around 765 years ago, and replaced an older wooden statue (which was plated with gold). Originally, the statue was sheltered inside a huge temple, which was, however, repeatedly destroyed by typhoons and tsunamis during 14th and 15th centuries and since then Daibutsu has sat under the open sky with rolling green hills in the background.
It is, however, not only the beautiful scenery and serene features of Buddha’s face that makes it so attractive. The whole temple compound is vibrant with spiritual energy. It is a place when you can easily pray and meditate for hours. If you have been to famous spiritual places such as Assisi in Italy or Lourdes in France, you may feel a similar spiritually energised atmosphere around Kamakura Daibutsu. Right, most of the visitors come to see just another cultural heritage site and the most exciting moment for them is to take a selfie with the statue in the background and buy a few souvenirs. Still, if you sit down on one of the flat-topped huge stones around the statue, which probably held the pillars of the original temple building, and meditate for a while, you can feel deep peace that emanates from the place.
Famous people paying respect to the Great Buddha
The Great Buddha of Kamakura has always fascinated people from Japan and around the world, including many famous figures. Writer Rudyard Kipling visited Japan on several occasions. After visiting Kamakura in 1892, he wrote a poem called BUDDHA AT KAMAKURA. It was published in The Five Nations in 1903. President Barack Obama visited the Great Buddha twice, as a child and again in 2010. There is an ice cream parlour on the street near the statue where you can see the photo of the president enjoying green tea ice cream. Peace visionary and spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy held a concert of meditative music at the feet of the Kamakura Buddha statue in 1987. It was one of 777 Peace Concerts that he offered in 62 nations on six continents during his lifetime.
TIP: How to get to Kamakura Daibutsu from Tokyo
You can make one day trip to Kamakura from Tokyo. The JR Yokosuka Line connects Tokyo and Shinagawa stations directly with Kamakura station. At Shinjuku or Shibuya you can take the JR Shonan Shinjuku Line, but only the trains bound for Zushi go directly to Kamakura. Otherwise, you will need to transfer at Ofuna station. The one-way trip takes about one hour and costs 920 yen.
At Kamakura station, change for the local Enoden Line and get off at Hase station. The Enoden Line train is made of two cute carriages and its route winds among houses in such closeness that you could touch the walls if you lean out of the window and stretch your hand.
Buddha’s protection – a story at the end
This is an interesting story, which my friend, a Czech architect, shared with me some time ago. When he was a student, a Japaneseese architect visited his university in Prague. He gave a talk during which he spoke about the role that statues of Buddha have played in preserving temples during earthquakes.
There are not many really old original temples to be found in Japan. All buildings in ancient times were made of wood and that is not that durable material as stone and very often succumbs to fires, typhoons and earthquakes. There are, however, some very old temples that have remained intact until our times and many of them house a large bronze or wooden statue of the Buddha.
What the Japanese architect explained was that the huge mass and weight of those statues were able to absorb most of the destructive energy unleashed by an earthquake into themselves and thus protect the wooden buildings around. In this way, the Buddha offers not only the inner, spiritual protection but also an outer, physical protection through his statues. Pretty cool, isn’t it?