In the suburbs of Ibaraki prefecture, the tallest bronze statue of Buddha which holds the Guinness World Record attracts both the locals and visitors alike. On this off the beaten track in an usually overlooked area, this grand statue of Buddha is something worth the trip out there to experience its power.
Pure Land of Paradise
From mid-April to late May, the garden is at its most spectacular with cherry blossoms, moss phlox, poppies, calendula, godetia, and other flowers with hydrangeas bloom in June and bright red salvia from early August to early October. And also, cosmos in late October. As if bringing the pure land of paradise down to earth, the Buddha is surrounded by colorful flowers and shows off its huge haunting silhouette.
The project to build the tallest standing bronze statue began in 1983 with the construction beginning in 1986 and completed in December 1992. The construction was carried out using the curtain wall method, in which the pieces of the statue were made in advance and assembled later, just like constructing high-rise buildings. Built by the Higashi Honganji Temple, the head temple of the Higashi Honganji sect of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism, this statue is actually a temple too. Inside the statue, the Buddha's ashes (the remains of Shakyamuni Buddha) are enshrined and any visitors can go inside this multi-story statue for an extra fee. The face is 20 meters long, the eyes are 2.5 meters long, the mouth is 4 meters long, the nose is 1.2 meters high, the ears are 10 meters long, the index finger is 7 meters long, the thumb is 1.7 meters in diameter, and the lotus base is 30 meters in diameter. There are 480 ball-like spiral curls each measuring one meter and weighing 200 kilograms. The total weight of the Big Buddha is a whopping 4,000 tons. The total height of 120 meters is associated with the twelve rays of light that symbolize the wisdom and compassion that Amitabha Buddha radiates from his body and soul.
Inside the Ushiku Buddha
Ushiku Daibutsu is not only a sight to behold, but it is only when you enter inside that you can feel its spiritual beauty. The interior is divided into five floors, and each floor unfolds its fantastic world. But, just like many Buddhist temples across Japan, visitors need to “purify” themselves before entering the sacred space. The censer located near the foot of the statue is the largest one in all of Japan and it is beautifully ornate. The incense stick is sold for 100yen per stick and can be purchased near the censer.
Once purified, the visitors will then need to step on the arch bridge with six Japanese letters written as “Namu Amida Butsu” literally translated as “I take refuge in Amida Buddha”. Take 6 six steps and recite the word “Namu Amida Butsu” and cross over to pay respect to the Buddha. The 5th and the 6th step is counted as one as seen on the footprint stickers seen below.
Just like the tradition of Japan, visitors will need to take their shoes off when entering the statue. The entrance to the Ushiku Daibutsu is located at the back of the statue. Journey through the temple in the shape of Buddha starts with a room known as “World of Light”. The darkness, in the beginning, represents earthly/worldly desires (bonno), but when the door opens, a single ray of light that represents compassion pours towards the golden statue of Buddha. The room then continues with the dimly illuminated lights of blue, green, and copper with calming music and a good smell of incense. These incense change monthly so every visit, the room is filled with different smells. This self-guided tour continues to the next room with various exhibits chronicling the creation of the Daibutsu. A replica of the Buddha’s toe is on display which makes the visitors get a better perspective of how large the statue is.
Visitors will then be escorted to the fifth floor via elevator to the observatory. The observatory is at the chest of the Ushiku Daibutsu, 85meter above ground. The expansive Kasumigaura plain and the twin peaks of Mt. Tsukuba are visible through the narrow window. Also, depending on the weather, Tokyo Sky Tree and Mt. Fuji may be seen. Down the spiral staircase to the fourth floor known as The Room of Mount Grdhrakuta, Buddha's ashes are enshrined. Also, a gift shop is located here too.
Next stop, the self-guided tour continues to the main floor on the third floor known as “World of Lotus Sanctuary” which means the Pure Land of Paradise. There are about 3,400 small golden Buddhas enshrined all over the walls, creating a magnificent golden world. Under each of the statues, the name of the family is written as the ashes of the deceased are enshrined.
The second and final floor of the tour is a corridor of peace and tranquility. Here, visitors can experience sutra copying for an additional fee. The history of sutra copying can be traced back to the 7th century when temples were built all over Japan and many Buddhist scriptures were needed. These sutras contain grateful teachings of Buddhism, various truths, and ideas. It was thought that by copying the contents of the sutras one character at a time by hand, one could enter into one's thoughts and accumulate merit. The merit gained through this process means that by accumulating good deeds, one will eventually be rewarded for them. Originally, sutra copying was not done to gain a specific benefit, but to put aside all self-interest and just concentrate on the work. Maybe since visitors are inside this prestigious temple, trying out sutra copying for not fun, but paying respect to the Buddha might be a cultural experience to do since you are in Japan. Thankfully, despite being unfamiliar with the language, tracing paper is being prepared so any visitors of all ages and skill levels can give it a try.
Outdoor Observation Deck
Overlooked by many visitors since the exit sign comes first, but there is an outdoor observation deck located at the end of the hallway on the second floor. From here, panoramic views of the garden can be seen. And the highlight here is to see the statue directly look up from its base.
With seasonal flowers to bring beautiful colors annually, there are plenty of photo opportunities while strolling around. Over by the garden that represents the Pure Land created based on the "Sansui Hidensho", a document on garden creation from the Kamakura period (1185-1333), which has been handed down from generation to generation at Higashi Honganji, there are many beautiful ducks and carps. And small but powerful waterfall is something to take notice of.
The pond known as the “Sea of Life” represents the flowers of the four seasons and the source of life, basically the world itself. During the cherry blossom seasons, the pond is beautifully surrounded by colors of pink and the Ushiku Daibutsu in the background is unforgettable.
As visitors enter and exit the garden, don’t forget to look up at the gate as there are statues of Buddha and Amitabha Buddha (the Great Buddha) who face each other and are said to guide us.
Kunomachi 2083, Ushiku, Ibaraki 300-1288
Monday - Friday 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM
Saturday - Sunday 9:30 AM - 5:30 PM
From Ushiku Station, take the bus from East Exit bound for Ushiku Daibutsu or Ami Premium Outlet and get off at Ushiku Daibutsu