Most visitors to Tokyo, if they’re in the city for more than a few days, end up making a day trip. Some opt for the sumptious shrines of Nikko, but I’ve always been partial to the accessible splendors of the medieval capital of Kamakura. And the one image that defines the town of Kamakura is its “Big Buddha”, or Daibutsu.
The Big Buddha actually sits in the picturesque Kamakura suburb of Hase, reachable in less than 10 minutes from Kamakura main station on the old-fashioned Enoden electric train line. While the signs are all marked with directions to the Daibutsu, the statue is actually a part of the Kotoku Temple, a small religious complex nestled against the hills.
Despite sporting the moniker “big”, this Buddha is only the second largest in Japan.(The largest is in Nara at the Todai-ji Temple.) The Daibutsu of Kamakura measures 13.35 meters (4.5 meters shorter than Nara’s, for comparison) and weighs 121 tons. Though the entire statue was cast in bronze, it was covered in gold leaf upon completion. Minute traces of gold can still be seen on the Buddha’s cheeks.
Today the Daibutsu is out in the open but in previous centuries, the statue was housed in a large hall. This structure, however, couldn’t withstand the forces of nature; typhoons in 1334 and 1369 weakened the foundations and an earthquake in 1498 subsequently finished it off.
There isn’t much else to see at Kotoku Temple, but if you walk up the road behind the temple (away from Hase town), you’ll soon stumble across the Daibutsu hiking course, a trail that leads up and into the woods and emerges again in North Kamakura. On a sunny day, especially in autumn, this is an extremely enjoyable way to link your temple visits in Kamakura.