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The Ushiku Daibutsu Takes Pure Land Buddhism to New Heights

Japan has a quite a few "giant" things: giant cotton candygiant ramenand a giant rice scoop.
It also has a giant Buddha. In fact, it has multiple giant Buddhas--and while the daibutsu at Todaiji Temple and in Kamakura are arguably more famous, the Ushiku Daibutsu, the third-tallest statue in the world, dwarfs them all. 

The Ushiku Daibutsu is in (surprise) Ushiku, a city in Ibaraki Prefecture, which is to the northeast of Tokyo. It sort of...sits in the middle of a vaguely themepark-like garden where, in addition to the Daibutsu, is a flower garden, some symbolic water features, and a....petting zoo?

Even if you're just there for the Buddha, however, it's worth the trek.

It's impossible to overemphasize how simply MASSIVE this statue, at 120 meters (393 feet) tall, feels. You approach it from quite a ways away and, as you get closer to its base, it truly seems to loom over and glare down at you. One of the factoids that really stuck with me from a Japanese art and architecture class I took is that the initial conclusion that Buddha statues are always "looking down" or appear to have their eyes closed is a misconception that arises from how Buddhist art is displayed in (Western) museums. When Buddha statues are displayed in such a way that you're at "eye level" with them it certainly appears as if they have a downward gaze, but, they were originally meant to be placed ABOVE the viewer, which would mean that they'd always be looking directly at you.

Ushiku Daibutsu is staring right at me, here.

Fitting in with the somewhat themepark-esque vibe, you can actually go INTO the Daibutsu--an elevator takes you to its chest area, which is about 85 meters or, as one of the guides said, approximately 27 or 28 stories from ground level.

There are three themed floors, which you view out of order. The order of procession is:
F1. World of Infinite Light & Life. This floor opens with a dark room and several multicolored Buddha statues look on as a dramatic voice-over plays from the depths above you. As you walk to the elevator you pass photos documenting how the Buddha was assembled in the 1990s, as well as a full-size plastic replica of one of the statue's toes.

Observation Room. Excellent views from the "slits" in the statue's chest area. I could see all the way to the Tokyo Skytree, albeit slightly obscured in the haze of the metropolis.

F3. World of the Lotus Sanctuary. This was a room filled with approximately 3,000 small golden Buddhas, which is supposed to represent Amida Buddha's Pure Land.

F2. World of Gratitude and Thankfulness. This floor has a small art gallery and various seats where you can pay to copy out the Namu Amida Budtsu ("I take refuge in the Amida Buddha") sutra.

You could also buy small squares of gold leaf, many of which had been stuck to the lotus petals of the statue's base:

Once we'd gone through all the floors, nothing was left to do but look at all the seasonal flowers and take way too many photos of the Daibutsu while the light was still good. 

Maybe this field of wildflowers is what the Pure Land is like? 

We are so adventurous!


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