The Buddhist statues of Japan come in a wide variety of forms, representing the various manifestations and aspects of Buddhism and its many sects. Of all the iconic figures that can be found around the country, perhaps the grooviest are the statues of Amida with a giant afro.
Dubbed the “Afro Buddha,” this statue stored at Todaiji in Nara is also rarely available public viewing — it’s usually only on display for one day a year. But thanks to special circumstances, it is on display from now until October 18. If you’re looking for the funkiest Buddha in Japan, now’s your chance to see him.
The proper name for this statue, formally known as Gokoushiyui-Amida-Nyoraizazo (五刧思惟阿弥陀如来坐像), goes a long way to explaining its nickname. Even for Japanese folks, “Afuro Butsuzou” (literally, “Afro Buddha Statue”) is a lot easier to say than Gokoushiyui-Amida-Nyoraizazo, we imagine. And with a head of hair like that, we can’t imagine calling it anything but Afro Buddha.
It turns out there’s actually more than just one of these statues — temples in Kyoto, Wakayama, Nara, and other prefectures all have their own “Afro Budhha.” But the one at Todaiji in Nara is rarely displayed — it is available for public viewing only on October 5 of each year.
However, due to the refurbishment of Kanjinsho Aminda-dou, or Kanjinsho Amida Hall, it seems that the usual October 5 display of the statue wouldn’t be possible. So instead, the Afro Buddha will be on display at the Todaji Museum in Nara until October 18! The extended viewing will be for this year only, so if October 5 is usually a busy day for you, now’s your chance to hang out with the coolest Buddha statue in Japan.
As you may have guessed, the hair on the statues of Gokoushikyui Amida is actually symbolic and not merely a fashion choice. The clue is in “Gokoushikiyui” (五刧思惟), which roughly means “meditating for five kalpa.” In case you’re not familiar with Buddhist time units, a kalpa has a variety of definitions, though in this case it would likely be an absurdly long length, probably somewhere from 16 million years to 128 trillion years. As you can imagine, sitting and meditating for even one kalpa would result in a bit of hair growth, so Gokoushikiyui Amida’s afro is actually the result of a lengthy, intense meditation session undertaken by Amida (the Japanese name for Amitābha Buddha) in order to save all sentient beings.
Of course, with the many statues of Gokoushiyui-Amida around Japan, you don’t need to visit the Toudaiji Museum to see one, but for how rarely this one is displayed, the trip definitely seems worth it to us.
Museum Information Todaiji Museum / 東大寺ミュージアム Address: Nara-shi, Suimoncho 100, 630-8208 (Google Maps) 〒630-8208奈良市水門町100番地 Open 9:30 a.m.-closing time of the Daibutsu (varies depending on month) Admission: 800 yen for adults, 400 yen for elementary school students Website
Sources: Japaaan, Nara Keizai Shinbun, Todaiji, Konkai-Komyoji Temple
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