The two most famous Buddha statues in Japan are the ones at Kamakura’s Kotokuin Temple and Nara’s Todaiji Temple. Respectively 13.35 and 15 meters tall, they’re both astounding artistic achievements, but there’s a little-known temple in the mountains of Tochigi Prefecture where there’s a Buddha statue that towers over each of them.
The temple is called Seirinji, written with the kanji for “pure” (清) and “woods” (林). The name actually doesn’t come for a reverence towards the local forests, though, but as a show of respect to the Buddhist nun who founded the temple some 700 years ago.
Seirinji is about a 15-minute walk from Kanuma Station on the JR Nikko Line. After stopping by the main hall to offer a quick prayer, we turned our eyes towards the Buddha statue.
Well, to be more specific, we turned our eyes up to the statue, which stands 19 meters tall.
In contrast to its imposing height, though, Seirinji’s Buddha has a friendly, inviting countenance, and the way its right hand is raised in benediction almost looks like it’s waving and saying “Hi!” It’s easily one of the most approachable-looking giant Buddha statues we’ve ever encountered.
The statue is also surprisingly slim. There’s sometimes a tendency to assume Buddhist statuary is going to have a more rotund physique, but Seirinji’s Buddha has a flat stomach, accentuated by the fitted look of its stone clothing.
If you’ve done much traveling in Japan and are thinking the aesthetics look a little different from what you’ve seen at other temples in the country, your impression is right. Seirinji’s giant Buddha is actually a reproduction of the Avukana Buddha statue in Sri Lanka, which was carved out of granite in the 5th century. The project was undertaken with the support of the Sri Lankan government and completed in 1988, and Seirinji was also gifted with relics of Shakyamuni, founder of Buddhism, and his disciples Sariputra and Maudgalyayana, which are enshrined on the premises.
Somewhat like the “Sacred Forest” flower park near the Yomiuri Land amusement park, Seirinji is an understated, unassuming, and yet poignant reminder of Japan’s religious culture, and how it connects the country with other nations. It’s also just plain cool looking, and especially worth visiting in mid-spring when the temple’s peony bushes are in bloom.
Seirinji / 清林寺
Address: Tochigi-ken, Kanuma-shi, Hirosuecho 1170
Photos © SoraNews24
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