Ōfuna Kannon Temple (大船観音寺) is a Buddhist temple of the Sōtō school of Zen located in Ōfuna, northern Kamakura. Visitors heading to Kamakura will notice the most prominent feature of the Kannon-ji once their train approaches Ōfuna Station: the 25-metre tall snow-white statue of the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara, known in Japan as Kannon (観音), the Goddess of Mercy.

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History:

The plan to construct a statue of Kannon Bodhisatva goes back to the initiative of four Meiji and Taisho era statesmen who started to collect funds in February 1927 to "spread the teachings of Kannon and help purify society". They raised 150,000 yen for the construction project and another 50,000 for other structures and facilities. The work on the Kannon statue commenced in April 1929, but the devastating effects of the Great Depression stopped construction in 1934. The statue was left half-finished for the next 23 years.

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The head of the Kannon statue and the Daibonshō (大梵鐘) bell tower on the left.

Finally, in May 1957, repair and construction work resumed under the direction of the Ōfuna Kannon Association and in close cooperation with painter Wada Sanzō (和田三造, 1883-1967), architect Sakakura Junzō (坂倉準三, 1901-1969), and Tōkyō University Arts professor Yoshida Isohachi. The statue was completed three years later, with total costs amounting to over 40 million yen. In 1981, the temple was established as Ōfuna Kannonji under the guidance of Sōjō-ji, the head temple of the Sōtō school.

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The statue

The statue of Guanyin Bodhisattva stands 25 metres tall. Its base is 19 metres wide. It consists of sections of concrete that were poured by hand. Embedded in the concrete are stones from ground zero in Hiroshima and Nagasaki to commemorate those who lost their lives in the atomic explosions. Inside the statue are a small museum and a place of worship.

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A small altar inside the statue.

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The cenotaph above was erected in April 1970 by the Hibakusha Society of Kanagawa. Hibakusha (被爆者) are the survivors of the atomic explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Peace Memorial Tower was built in 1985 and symbolised the hope for eternal peace without nuclear arms.

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The Atomic Bomb Flame Lantern has a remarkable story: it is said that Yamamoto Tatsuo, a conscript from Fukuoka Prefecture, was riding a Hiroshima-bound train on 6 August 1945. His troop transport stopped after the atomic bomb had been dropped onto the city at 08:15 a.m. With the city flattened and ablaze, Tatsuo decided to look for his uncle, who had been living there. Japan capitulated on 15 August 1945, and Tatsuo was able to return home. He had been unable to find his uncle's house but decided to bring some mementoes. When he came across smouldering ruins close to his uncle's former home, he transferred a flame to his fuel-operated hand warmer. He carried it back to Fukuoka, where he transferred it to his family's butsudan (Buddhist family altar).

Later, the flame was transferred to several other locations. In 1966, a journalist interviewed Tatsuo, who recounted the flame's story, describing it not only as a memorial flame for his late uncle but as a flame of mourning for all those who died in the explosions. Two years later, the flame was relocated to the Tower of Peace in Tatsuo's village and sent to Ōfuna Kannon-ji. Every autumn, hibakusha hold memorial services in front of the Atomic Bomb Cenotaph.

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The foundation stone of the jizo (地蔵) statue above was donated by Sairen-ji, a temple that was located directly under the atomic explosion in Nagasaki, while a stone from Nagasaki's Urakami Cathedral was used in the cenotaph.

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The Sanmon Gate was donated in 1984; behind the gate is the Shoshinkaku Hall, the main temple hall and the offices.



Address: 1 Chome-5-3 Okamoto, Kamakura, Kanagawa 247-0072; phone: 0467-431-561.
Admission: daily 09:00-16:00, 300 JPY
Access: a few hundred metres from Ōfuna Station (Tōkaidō Line, Shōnan-Shinjuku Line, Yokosuka Line, Negishi Line, Yokohama Line) across Kashio River.
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