Visiting the Great Buddha of Gifu
By John Asano
Many of you have probably heard of the Great Buddha (Daibutsu) of Kamakura and Todai-ji in Nara, but did you know that there is a third Great Buddha in Japan?
Called the Gifu Shohoji Daibutsu (Great Buddha of Gifu) it can be found in Gifu City, Gifu Prefecture and is truly impressive. Located a short distance from Gifu Park, the Great Buddha is housed in the Hall of the Great Buddha at Shoho-ji Temple. The hall stands out in the distance with its high roof and unique design. The architecture of the building has a mixture of Chinese and Japanese influences.
The Great Buddha was conceived by the then head priest of Kinpouzan Shoho-ji Temple, Ichyuu in around 1790. Ichyuu admired the Great Buddha of Todai-ji Temple in Nara, and wanted to build a large image of Shaka Nyorai (Great Buddha) in hope of appeasing the gods and averting earthquakes and famines.
Ichyuu unfortunately died in 1815 before its completion, but it was completed by his successor in 1832. The Great Buddha took a total of 38 years to construct and is one of the Great Buddha structures in Japan, along with the ones mentioned earlier in Kamakura and Nara.
The Great Buddha of Gifu is very unique due to its method of construction. A central pillar of 1.8 meters in circumference was used made from ginkgo tree wood. The shape of the Buddha was formed using bamboo lattices, which were then covered in clay to add shape and form a mould. Buddhist scriptures were added to the clay, kind of like a paper mache. The head priest, Ichyuu spent years travelling around Japan gathering the scriptures.
The scriptures were then covered in lacquer and gold leaf to complete the appearance. It is the largest statue in Japan constructed by this method, and has been given the nickname “Basket Buddha”, due to the bamboo framework used in its construction, which resemble a basket. Inside the Great Buddha is a statue of Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of Medicine.
The north and south walls of the hall are lined with 500 statues of Buddha’s disciples. Each one is distinctively unique and has a different expression, clothing and pose. No two are alike and I easily spent a good amount of time checking them all out, as they were that interesting! Above the statues are some fascinating dioramic paintings.
At the entrance of the hall is a wooden statue of Yakushi Nyorai, the Medicine Buddha. Legend has it that the statue can cure any aliment. Simply rub the part of the Buddha that is causing you pain and you will obtain relief. Having a broken ring finger, I naturally had to rub the Buddha’s right ring finger in hope that it would help. I did after all have a good reason for visiting this place, right?
The Great Buddha is certainly lucky that is for sure, or maybe it was Buddha’s divine power as it has managed to survive a major earthquake that levelled the city, as well as the devastating air raids of World War 2 that flattened the whole area. Today it remains an icon of the city and a must see sight in Central Japan.
The Measurements of the Great Buddha of Gifu
Height of Statue: 13.7 meters
Length of Face: 3.63 meters
Width of Eyes: 0.66 meters
Length of Ears: 2.12 meters
Width of Ears: 1.31 meters
Height of Nose: 0.36 meters
Open: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
Admission: 200 yen for adults, 100 yen for children
Address: 8 Daibutsu-cho, Gifu City, Gifu Prefecture
Access: From JR Gifu Station or Meitetsu Gifu Station take a bus heading to Gifu Park. I recommend the N80, N32 or N86 buses. Gifu Daibutsu is a short walk from the Gifu Park (岐阜公園) bus stop.