When Daibutsu (大仏 / Great Buddha) is mentioned, most people will imagine the huge statues enshrined at Todaiji Temple in Nara, Nara Prefecture, and Kotokuin Temple in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, which remain must-see sites for tourists, both domestic and foreign, visiting those cities. But Nagoya and the surrounding area is also home to a number of Great Buddha statues. Some are said to be even bigger than those in Nara and Kamakura, and even those of a lesser stature are unique, with an impressive level of artistry.
When visiting a Daibutsu, please remember that the statue is an object of religious veneration for Buddhists, rather than a tourist attraction. Some temples with Daibutsu will have conditions displayed in Japanese for visitors to observe, such as maintaining a tranquil atmosphere and not being loud, and this is a good rule of thumb to observe.
Nagoya Great Buddha (名古屋大佛)
Image: Bottom left - The entrance to Toganji Temple. Bottom right - Commune in silence with the Great Buddha in peaceful surrounds.
Within the verdant grounds of Toganji Temple in Chikusa Ward sits a 10-meter tall Great Buddha (15-meters including the dais) known as the Nagoya Daibutsu. The bronze figure, cast in Kyoto from an original statue of Shakyamuni (now enshrined in the main temple building) commissioned from a Buddhist sculptor in Toyama Prefecture, was consecrated in 1987, and painted a brilliant green in 2006. Another distinctive characteristic is the presence of ten elephants supporting the main figure, rather than the often-seen lotus flower. The lower level of the dais bears the 'Three Seals' of Buddhism (impermanence; nonself; nirvana).
Toganji is a temple of the Sōtō School, founded in the Tenmon era (1532-1555) by Oda Nobuyuki, lord of Suemori Castle and younger brother of Oda Nobunaga, who established the temple as a memorial to his father, Oda Nobuhide. The temple name is taken from the posthumous Buddhist name given to Nobuhide. The temple was moved to the current location in 1714.
The main object of worship enshrined at Toganji is a sculpture of the bodhisattva Kanzeon (Avalokitesvara) created by the monk Eshin Sōzu (恵心僧都, also known as Genshin / 源信), and an image of the goddess Benzaiten (弁財天, also shortened to Benten / 弁天) is enshrined as a guardian deity. The temple is known for a figure of the 'Sleeping Benten' (displayed only twice a year), and also has a fish-shaped ceremonial wooden drum said to be the largest in Japan, measuring 1 meter in diameter.
Where: Toganji Temple (桃巌寺), Chikusa Ward (千種区) Yotsuyadori (四谷通) 2-16
Access: A 5-minute walk south from Motoyama Sta. (本山駅, H16 / M17) Exit 6 on the Subway Higashiyama and Meijo Lines (地下鉄東山線・名城線)
Kita Great Buddha (北大佛)
Image: Bottom left - The gate of Fukoji. Bottom right - Fukoji temple grounds.
Located within the grounds of Fukoji, a Sōtō School temple in Nagoya City's Kita Ward, is a golden statue known as the Kita Daibutsu, measuring 4.8 meters tall (6.8 meters including the base). Officially, this is a representation of Shaka Nyorai (釈迦如来, Shakyamuni), according to the explanatory signboard, 'a holy man without parallel, from whose crown shines a light that illuminates the world, expunging all evils, eradicating all wickedness, and leading us to the righteous path.'
Visitors can also see a statue of the Nyoirin Kannon (如意輪観音, Cintāmaṇicakra, a manifestation of Avalokiteśvara) which is said to grant any wish, and the Jizo figures representing the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac, which are said to grant the wishes of those who pray to the Jizo of one's zodiac sign.
Where: Fukoji Temple (普光寺), Kita Ward (北区) Osugi (大杉) 3-12-8
Access: A 5-minute walk north from Amagasaka Sta. (尼ケ坂駅, ST04) on the Meitetsu Seto Line (名鉄瀬戸線)
Great Buddha of Shurakuen (聚楽園大仏)
Image: Bottom left - The main approach from near Shurakuen Station will take you past a pair of Niō guardian statues.
Bottom right - The Great Buddha precinct adjoins the well-tended Shurakuen Park, where Yamada Saikichi once had an inn called Shurakuen.
Looking up from Shūrakuen Station on the Meitetsu Tokoname Line, one can see a Great Buddha peering over the treetops.
Proposed by Nagoya industrialist Yamada Saikichi to commemorate the enthronement of Emperor Taisho, construction of the statue was to be funded by public donations. When donations were not forthcoming, Yamada funded the project himself, with construction beginning in 1924. Modelled on the Great Buddha at Kōtokuin in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, the statue was consecrated in 1927 to commemorate the marriage of the Emperor Showa. At 18.79 meters tall, the Great Buddha of Shurakuen is taller than both the Great Buddhas of Nara and Kamakura.
With the passing years, the Great Buddha's structural deterioration became a concern, and in 1984 the statue was covered in a layer of copper dust among other extensive repairs carried out, through donations from residents. The following year, the Great Buddha was consecrated as the principal object of worship of Sōtō School Daibutsu-ji Temple.
The surrounding area is a Designated Cultural Property of Tokai City, and a well-recognized symbol of Tokai City.
From the statue's hilltop location, one can look out over the surrounding landscape, over the steelworks and streets of Tokai City.
Where: Tokai City (東海市) Arao-cho (荒尾町) Nishimaruyama (西丸山) (in Shurakuen Park [聚楽園公園])
Access: A 5-minute walk from Shūrakuen Sta. (聚楽園駅, TA07) on the Meitetsu Tokoname Line (名鉄常滑線)
Hotei Great Buddha (布袋の大仏)
The figure represented by this statue is Ontake-Yakushi-son (Yakushi Nyorai Buddha / Bhaiṣajyaguru), who is said to give the faithful respite from illness, relief from disorders, and lead them to the path of enlightenment.
The statue was built by a resident of the Hotei neighborhood in Konan City, the late Maeda Hidenobu. Afflicted by poor health, Maeda worshipped Ontake-Yakushi-son, and was able to open an acupuncture and moxibustion clinic in Nagoya City, where the clinic's fine reputation earned it many patients. At the age of 43, a prophetic dream inspired Maeda to determine to build the statue and help alleviate the suffering of the ill.
Maeda wanted to leave something grand for future generations, and had the divided spirit of Ontake-Yakushi-son ceremonially transferred, and opened a place of worship with his own funds.
This was in 1949, soon after the end of the Pacific War, when many lived in extreme poverty, and life was a great struggle.
The ground purification ceremony was held that year, and it took 5 years for the statue to reach completion, with all of the labor being done by hand, including the levelling of the site and mixing of the concrete. The statue was consecrated on 24 February,1954, and a lively spring festival is held every year to mark this occasion. The statue is lit up during the cherry blossom-viewing season, and over the end-of-year / New year period.
The figure of Ontake-Yakushi-son is affectionately known as the Great Buddha of Hotei (Hotei no Daibutsu / 布袋の大仏). At 18 meters tall, the statue is 2 meters taller than the Great Buddha at Todaiji in Nara, and the tallest in Japan.
Located close to the Inuyama Line, the Great Buddha can be seen clearly from the train when looking west while passing between Hotei Station and Konan Station.
The Great Buddha appears to be wearing sunglasses when looking at the statue from a certain angle from the other side of the nearby level crossing, a spectacle that has been featured on a number of TV shows. The image of the 'Great Buddha in Sunglasses' also appears on a Konan City PR poster.
Where: Konan City (江南市) Kiga-cho (木賀町) Daimon (大門) 132
Access: A 12-minute walk north from Hotei Sta. (布袋駅) on the Meitetsu Inuyama Line (名鉄犬山線)