For centuries the Great Buddha statues in Kamakura and Nara reigned supreme as the largest bronze statues in Japan. Although the Daibutsu of Nara, cast 2,000 years ago by orders of the Emperor Shomu, was Japan’s largest at 50 feet, I have always been partial to the Daibutsu of Kamakura, cast in 1252. Although a paltry 37 feet, it sits outside against a glorious background of wooded hills, its wooden covering having been swept away centuries ago by what must have been a whopper of a tidal wave. There’s something magnificent about seeing a huge Buddha underneath a vault of blue sky, especially if you catch your first glimpse of it from miles away.
Enter the Daibutsu of Ushiku, which I had the opportunity to see while visiting long-time friends in nearby Tsukuba, the Odas, one day during Golden Week. Cast only in the 1990s and therefore a mere baby of a Buddha, it nevertheless towers above its ancient elders, rising 330 feet from its pedestal and lotus platform (which add another 66 feet to its height). Weighing 4,000 tons, the bronze image has been listed since 1995 in the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest Buddha statue in the world. The Daibutsu of Nara could fit nicely in the 59-foot palm of the Ushiku Daibutsu’s hand. The Statue of Liberty comes up to its hips.
There’s an elevator you can take to the Ushiku Daibutsu’s chest, but the line of people waiting to get in was too long during Golden Week, so Oda-san and I admired the statue from the ground, walked through fields overflowing with flowers, and marveled at the koi that beached themselves in a feeding frenzy as they battled over morsels tossed to them by children.
Oda-san and I
Unfortunately, the Ushiku Daibutsu is not easy to reach, requiring a train ride from Ueno to Ushiku Station and then a bus (with infrequent departures from Ushiku Station). As word of the upstart spreads, however, transportation will likely improve. Just look what they did for the Great Buddha on Hong Kong’s Lantau Island, which was built in 1993 as the world’s largest seated Buddha at a height of only 100 feet: whereas the journey to Lantau used to involve a ferry and a bus ride, you can now reach the Lantau Buddha by subway, followed by a 25-minute ride in a cable car.
The koi in the pond by the Daibutsu