The Great Buddha at Kamakura is one of the most iconic Amida Buddha statues in Japan with its impressive height of 11.3m and weight of approximately 121t; it has a long history and unlike most statues, it’s sitting out in the open air without shelter. Based on the Azumakagami historical records, construction for the Great Buddha at Kamakura first began in 1252. Throughout its long history, the statue has received great damages due to natural disasters and it was repaired several times; one of the most significant changes involves its color as it was initially covered with gold leaves, but the exterior’s all copper now. However, as we can see from THE GREAT BUDDHA AT KAMAKURA (1930) by Kawase Hasui, there’s not much differences in the exterior appearance of the Great Buddha for the last hundred years, at least, when we compare the existing statue today to the one portrayed in his art; the characteristic long earlobes, downward-facing eyes, hair, clothing, down to its color of the Buddha have all remained the same. Those with keen eyes would notice that there are three lines below the great Buddha’s chin. This is a trait of the Buddha as it’s believed that there are three stages before one can attain enlightenment. While there are not much significant changes in the appearance of the Great Buddha, there are some hints of the past from the straw-thatched shelter on the right and the outfits of the figures featured in this work.
Kawase Hasui has cleverly adopted several approaches to emphasize the grand size of the Buddha; the backs of, presumably, a family spanning three generations – grandmother, mother and a child paying respect to the Great Buddha, coupled with a pair of birds resting on its hand, highlights the towering size of the Great Buddha. Not only did he managed to capture the geometrical proportions down to a tee, his art also eases the emotions of viewers, as the open space, blue skies, tall trees, white clouds and shadows of the trees evoke serenity and inner peace.
In its long span of history, many people have paid a visit and prayed to the Great Buddha at Kamakura; it’s not just the Japanese, people from all over the countries were also enamored by the Great Buddha statue and it’s listed in several historical records; in the 16th century, many merchants and envoys from Spain, Portugal, England, Netherlands have extolled the Great Buddha for its overwhelming size and beauty. When Japan closed off its borders under the isolationist foreign policy of the Japanese Tokugawa shogunate, visits by foreigners naturally dropped. In 1859, when Japan has finally started opening up its border, starting from the Yokoyama bay, there were a few restrictions placed; foreigners could only stay in specific areas and were only allowed to roam around freely within a 40-km zone from their place of residence. With such restrictions, the Great Buddha at Kamakura, which was within the acceptable zone, became an extremely popular sightseeing spot for the foreigners. It’s amazing how much history and stories the Great Buddha at Kamakura tells.
This amazing article written by Yeong!