Ushiku Daibutsu (Buddha)
The tallest standing Buddha statue in Japan is hiding more than a few secrets.
You won’t be able to feel the power of the Ushiku Daibutsu (Buddha) through photos alone, so take a trip out to Ibaraki Prefecture to experience it for yourself. The Ushiku Buddha is an impressive sight and the third tallest statue in the world, but above all, it is an immersive experience where you can actually go inside this multi-story Amida Buddha.
Photo by: Kotaro Haishi
Jutting gracefully into the horizon line, the Buddha’s undeniable presence is extenuated by the remoteness of the area — a haunting silhouette that can be spotted from the nearby expressway. Three times the size of the Statue of Liberty, the Buddha and its base is 120 meters high, representing the 12 beams of light that are said to come from the Amida’s body reaching throughout the world. The positioning of the hands signify his acceptance of all sentient beings, and just one hand is so massive that the nearly 15-meter-high Nara Buddha can fit in its palm.
Inside the Ushiku Buddha
Inside, you’ll be guided through a mini-spiritual awakening and bare witness to its peculiar beauty. As you travel from pitch black darkness into the mysterious “World of Infinite Light and Life” room with mesmerizing lit-up Buddhas.
From there, you can check out photos and history about the statue that took about 10 years to complete by 1993. To get a better perspective of just how large it is, there’s a replica of the Buddha’s toe, easily taller than eight feet (about 2.5 meters). The most somber yet impressive sight is the World of Lotus Sanctuary, where nearly 3,400 small golden Buddha statues line the walls — unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. The small statues, called tainaibutsu (a Buddha inside a bigger Buddha) are actually memorials acting as graves that can be purchased by the family. (A larger tainaibutsu costs around ¥1 million.)
On the 4th and 5th floors is the lookout area called the Room of Mt. Grdhrakuta (paying homage to this part of India), which allows you to see out of thin windows built into its chest area. It is said that on a clear day you can even see Tokyo Skytree in the distance. There are sitting areas as well as a gift shop inside, too.
Outside the Buddha: An unbeatable sight
On your way out, don’t forget to go out on the veranda, where the 4,000-ton buddha stands upon a blooming lotus flower. Take in the view of the Jodo Teien garden, which has various flowers and plants in bloom depending on the season and in springtime cherry blossoms completely elevate the experience.
You might be wondering why you haven’t heard of this spot in Ushiku city as a “must-see” despite its exceptional nature. There are a few factors that may play into that. Though it is just about 1 ½ hours outside of Tokyo (by train and bus), it’s not really in a tourist-friendly area even if there is a large outlet mall a 15-minute walk away. Perhaps that’s why most tourists and even Japanese residents have not visited nor heard about this giant bronze Buddha. The remoteness plus the fact that it is located in a Buddhist cemetery — unlike the more popular daibutsu in Nara, Kamakura or even the leaning Buddha of Nanzo-in Temple in Fukuoka — may also contribute to its seclusion.
Despite its somber atmosphere, this is indeed a spot for tourists, with surrounding ornately landscaped gardens, and a petting zoo with squirrels, goats and bunnies and the popular — yet, we must say morally questionable — monkey shows.
The Ushiku Daibutsu should be a priority sightseeing stop for those seeking a spiritual and unearthly experience just outside of Tokyo.