Giant Buddha Statue

Posted in Japan | March 19, 2010

Among the giant Buddha statues in Japan, only the Big Buddha at Kamakura remains in original form. The Nara Daibutsu was recast and the Kyoto Daibutsu was destroyed in a fire. A small wooden statue was erected as a substitute.


There are many other giant Buddha statues in Japan. Asuka Daibutsu is the oldest giant buddha statue in all of Japan. Daibutsu of Nihon-ji is the largest among the stone-carved ones. This statue was chiseled into a stone cliff during the 1780s.

The early years of Japanese Buddhism saw many giant Buddha statues carved in stone, cliffs, rock outcrops, and caves. These impressive carvings are known as Magaibutsu or Sekibutsu. The area of Kyushu sees more than half of these statues. The remaining statues are located across the length and breadth of the country.

Ushiku Daibutsu is the largest in Japan and probably the largest in the world standing at an impressive 100 meters. Located in the Ibaraki Prefecture, the statue lies 50 km from Tokyo. Post World War II, several giant Buddha statues have been erected.

Commercialism seems to be the predominant cause in the erection of these statues. Tourism to certain localities of Japan has increased because of the statues.

Nara Daibutsu is located at Todai-ji Temple in Nara. The statue is an embodiment of Birushana Nyorai. The statue has been damaged in several battles, but has received proper restoration. The reconstruction of the statue was completed in 1185, while the head was rebuilt in 1692.


Certain Buddhist sects, such as Birushana, are believed to be the reward-body of Shakyamuni Buddha, which is the historical Buddha. In other sects, Birushana is viewed as the true Buddha entity. Vairocana is the Sanskrit name for Birushana, which means ‘coming from sunlight’.

The Giant Buddha Statue of Kyoto Daibutsu was carved during the reign of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The 48-meter-high structure needed only three years for completion. The earthquake of 1596 damaged it to a significant degree. The temple fire of 1602 was equally disastrous. A wooden substitute is the only remains of this one wonderful landmark.

The drawings of German physician, Engelbert Kaempfer, are the only surviving pictorial record of the Kyoto Daibutsu. His writings made an elaborate note of the ‘long bovine ears’ and the ‘frizzy hair’. It was also observed that the outstretched palm would accommodate three Japanese mats. The measurements were recorded minutely. The width between the shoulders was the equivalent of 15 paces.

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