Kōtoku-in (高徳院, "Temple of High Virtue"), officially known as Daiizan Kōtokuin Shōjōsen-ji (大異山高徳院清浄泉寺), is a Buddhist temple of the Jōdo-shū sect, located in Hase (長谷), in the western part of Kamakura. The temple is famous for the Great Buddha of Kamakura (鎌倉大仏 Kamakura Daibutsu), a colossal bronze statue of Amida Butsu (Amitābha), a designated National Treasure and one of the historic sites included in Kamakura's proposal for inclusion in UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

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The temple itself is quite inconspicuous and does not offer a lot to see apart from Niōmon Gate and several sub-temples east of the statue which are not open to the public. Kōtoku-in used to be the kokubun-ji (国分寺), the provincial head temple, not only for Sagami Province but for all 33 provinces of eastern Japan. It is hard to imagine that the present-day temple has a prolonged history of over 1,200 years.

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Niōmon Gate (仁王門)

The Great Buddha of Kamakura is a bronze statue of Amida Nyorai (阿弥陀如来, Amitābha), the principal object of worship in Pure Land Buddhism. It measures 13.35 metres in height and weighs in at 93 to 121 tonnes (depending on the source). Its other dimensions are not less impressive: the face measures 2.35 metres, each eye about 1 metre, the ears are 1.9 metres in length, even the thumbs have a circumference of 85 centimetres. The statue is hollow. The interior can be visited for a nominal fee of 20 JPY. During the current coronavirus pandemic, however, it has been closed to the public.

History:


According to temple records, the statue was constructed in 1252. Still, its history started much earlier, under Minamoto no Yoritomo who was apparently so impressed with the Great Buddha of Tōdai-ji (東大寺) in Nara that he decided to build a monumental statue in Kamakura, too. However, Yoritomo died before he could realise his plans and the Hōjō, the new de facto rulers, were supporters of the Rinzai denomination and showed little inclination to finance the project. It fell on Inada no Tsubone (稲多野局), a former lady-in-waiting of Yoritomo and the monk Jōkō to raise the necessary funds. In 1238, they had finally collected sufficient funds and work on a massive wooden statue was begun.

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The statue and the hall were completed in 1243 but were destroyed in a storm in 1247. The fundraising started again, and the next statue was cast in bronze by Ōno Gorōemon, of whom nothing but his name is known. After several unsuccessful attempts, the statue was completed in 1252. Inada no Tsubone, the driving force behind the Great Buddha, survived the completion for a year and died in 1253.

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The new statue was housed in a large hall which was demolished in violent storms in 1335 and 1368 and wrecked by a tidal wave that struck the Hase valley in 1498 in the wake of the Nankai earthquake (明応地震 Meiō Jishin). After the demise of the Hōjō in 1333, the political centre moved back to Kyōto and no more funds were available for the former shogunal capital, so the Great Buddha has been sitting in the open ever since. The statue has been repaired several times; its last renovation took place in 2016.

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Originally, the statue was completely gilded. Traces of gold leaf are still visible around the ears. The face has a very fine and long moustache and a white curl on its forehead, the urna or byakugō (白毫) symbolising a third eye that gives vision into the divine world. The urna was crafted of 6 kilogrammes of silver. The protuberance on top of the head is the 'ushnisha' which symbolises wisdom. The hair is made up of 656 curls winding clockwise. The head of the statue id inclined forward which is said to give visitors a feeling of intimacy.

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Rearview of the Daibutsu on a rainy day; clearly visible the two windows on its back.

Inside the statue:


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Giant straw sandals (大草鞋 owaraji) called 'Buddha's sandals'

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The Kangetsudo (観月堂, 'Moon-viewing Hall') was formerly located in the royal palace of the Joseon Dynasty in Seoul. It was donated in 1924 and houses a Kannon statue from the late Edo period designated the 23rd Kannon of Kamakura.

Link:

  • Kotoku-in (official website in Japanese and English)

References:

  • Baldessari, Francesco, Kamakura: A Historical Guide, 2016
  • Cooper, Michael, Exploring Kamakura, Weatherhill 1979
  • Mutsu, Iso, Kamakura: Fact and Legend, Tuttle 2012

Access: a 30-minute walk from JR Kamakura Station; a 10-min walk from Hase Station along the Enoden Line; by bus from terminal 1 or 6 at JR Kamakura Station East Exit bound for or via 'Daibutsu-mae'; get off at 'Daibutsu-mae' and walk from the bus stop (~1 minute).
Address: 4-2-28 Hase, Kamakura, Kanagawa 248-0016, Japan; phone: 0467-220-703.
Admission: open daily 08:00-17:00; 300 JPY (adults), children (age 6-12) 150 JPY; the interior of the statue is currently closed to the public.
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