And whoso will, from Pride released,
Contemning neither creed nor priest,
May feel the Soul of all the East
About him at Kamakura.

The Buddha at Kamakura

Whilest in Japan I had the opportunity to visit the great bronze Buddha in Kamakura. It is a large (hollow) statue of Buddha seated; nevertheless, it is 44 feet tall.

Its building started in 1238. A lady attendant of Shogun Yoritomo (1147-1199) had the idea; after his death she dedicated her life to the construction of the statue.

Currently the statue sits in the open air. Originally it was in a large hall; this structure was destroyed in the storm of 1248. A new hall was built for the bronze statue, but this was destroyed in a storm in 1335. It was reconstructed, and walloped again in 1368. A fourth structure enshrined the Buddha until it was swept away by a tidal wave in 1495. Archbishop Yuten (1637-1718), the 36th abbot of the Great Head Temple Zojoji of the Jodo Sect tried to build another hall, but he died before this project got off of the ground. (Seems like maybe fate decreed that there wouldn't be an enclosure..)

Of the 44 foot height, the face is 7.7 feet tall. The eyes are 3.3 feet high. The ears are 6.6 feet, and the circumference of the thumb is 2.8 feet.

"The Voyage of Captain John Saris to Japan, 1613" includes the following passage:

The Countrey betwixt Surnunga [ed. "Suruga", a province of Japan]
and Edoo [ed. "Edo", the old name for Tokyo] is well inhabited.
We saw many Fotoquise [ed "Hotokesan"?, translate, "Our Lord Buddha"]
or Temples as we passed, and amongst others one Image of especiall
note, called Dabis [ed. "Daibutsu", or Buddha], made of Copper,
being hollow within, but of very substantiall thicknesse. It was
in height, as wee ghessed, from the ground about one and twentie or
two and twentie foot, in the likeness of a man kneeling upon the
ground, with his buttockes resting on his heeles [ed. this is not
accurate], his arms of wondefull largeness, and the whole body
proportionable. He is fashioned wearing of a Gowne. This Image
is much reverenced by Travellers as they passe there. Some of our
people went into the bodie of it, and hoope and hallowed, which
made an exceeding great noyse. We found many Characters and Markes
made upon it by Passengers, whom some of my Followers imitated, and
made theirs, in like manner.

Maybe because of these guys there is now a sign as you enter the area:


by thy creed, when thou enterest this sanctuary
remember thou treadest upon ground hallowed by
the worship of ages.
This is the Temple of BHUDDA and the gate of the
Eternal, and should therefore be entered with reverence.


I too decided to go inside the statue. It isn't hard, as they've built a doorway underneath it, and a staircase within.

The first thing I noticed was that they (whom I cannot tell) cut two windows into the back, fairly high up. Perhaps this was done to maintain some equilibrium between the inner and outer temperatures (there is no glass in these windows).

The construction was in a series of horizontal bands, each about 1 foot high. I could not tell how these were made; it was difficult to trace all the way around the statue to see if there was a vertical weld, which would have implied the fabrication of the band from one long strip (I suspect that this is highly likely).

The horizontal strips were then welded together. It isn't exactly clear how, but techniques used in Europe often involved building a small clay mold-in-place over adjoining strips, and then pouring in bronze; the bronze remelts the existing metal in the strips and fuses them. On the inside of the Buddha were points at which welds like this appeared; however the exact technology seems hard to pin down. For example, without measuring the thickness of the metal it's hard to tell if the weld was done on both sides (inside and out) of the seam or just one.

I repressed by desire to scream and bang on the statue to evaluate its resonant frequencies.

Some other Kamakura-related pages:

Some time after I returned to the U.S., I happened upon a poem by Rudyard Kipling:


O Ye who tread the Narrow Way
By Tophet-flare to Judgement Day,
Be gentle when "the heathen" pray
To Buddha at Kamakura!

To him the Way, the Law, apart,
Whom Maya held beneath her heart,
Ananda's Lord, the Bodhisat,
The Buddha of Kamakura.

For though he neither burns nor sees,
Nor hears ye thank your Deities,
Ye have not sinned with such as these,
His children at Kamakura;

Yet spare us still the Western joke
When joss-sticks turn to scented smoke
The little sins of little folk
That worship at Kamakura -

The grey-robed, gay-sashed butterflies
That flit beneath the Master's eyes.
He is beyond the Mysteries
But loves them at Kamakura.

And whoso will, from Pride released,
Contemning neither creed nor priest,
May feel the Soul of all the East
About him at Kamakura.

Yea, every tale Ananda heard,
Of birth as fish or beast or bird,
While yet in lives the Master stirred,
The warm wind brings Kamakura.

Till drowsy eyelids seem to see
A-flower 'neath her golden htee
The Shwe-Dagon flare easterly
From Burmah to Kamakura;

And down the loaded air there comes
The thunder of Thibetan drums,
And droned - "Om mane padme oms"
A world's width from Kamakura.

Yet Brahmans rule Benares still,
Buddha-Gaya's ruins pit the hill,
And beef-fed zealots threaten ill
To Buddha and Kamakura.

A tourist-show, a legend told,
A rusting build of bronze and gold,
So much, and scarce so much ye hold
The meaning of Kamakura?

But when the morning prayer is prayed,
Think, ere ye pass to strife and trade,
Is God in human image made
No nearer than Kamakura?

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Last update: 02/26/95.