Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Giant Buddha of Akata

On 12th of October, hubby and me visited the giant Buddha of Akata (Akata no Daibutsu in Japanese). It is a temple with a large indoor statue of standing Buddha in Akata town. The temple is about six km away from our home and it took us about 10 min to reach there by our car. The atmosphere of the temple was very calm, serene, and peaceful.

Hubby at the top of the staircase leading to the temple ground

Me in front of the temple

Akata no Daibutsu is an important tourist attraction of Akita prefecture. But I was unable to find an English pamphlet explaining the history of the temple. Fortunately, my hubby found some information about the temple in Japanese on the internet. So I requested him to translate some of the Japanese literature in English. I was really amused to see that he could not pronounce or grasp the meaning of many 'Kanji' characters used in the literature about the temple. 'Kanji' are Chinese characters used in the modern Japanese writing system along with Hiragana and Katakana. 'Kanji' characters can have more than one meaning and often have several pronunciations. That might be the reason why hubby, who is from Science background, found it difficult to fully understand the Japanese literature about temples and shrines. Here is the summary about the history of the temple.
Akata no Daibutsu is a Hase temple (Hasedera or Hase Kannon temple). The original temple was built by priest Zezan in 1774 AD. A statue of Buddha was bequeathed to this temple by Kameda han's feudal lord in 1784 AD. Kameda han was a domain in the Edo period located in Dewa provice, which is a former province of Japan and comprised of most of the modern-day Akita and Yamagata prefecture. The statue of Buddha was small and was carved with the same wood as that of the principal statue of Buddha of the Nara Hase temple. After the establishment of the Akata Hase temple with the small statue of Buddha, the giant statue of Buddha was made. However, the temple caught fire in 1888 and therefore the present giant statue of Buddha was remade later on. The statue is about nine meters in height. This is one of the three big Hase Kannon (Bodhisatva in Sanskrit) in Japan, the other two being that of Nara and Kamakura. Every year there is a festival called Akata no Daibutsu matsuri in late August. This matsuri is very rare and unique in entire Japan because of the participation of both temple as well as shrine in the matsuri. During this matsuri, Hase Kannon is taken from the temple and kept for one whole day and night in a shrine that is located about one km away, and then returned to its original place in the temple the next day.

When we arrived at the temple, we noticed that there were only a few more visitors around. So the atmosphere in the temple was really calm and quiet. There is a bell at a height of about four meters just outside the main entrance of the temple. It was nice to pull on the long and strong rope to ring the bell.

Hubby ringing the temple bell

Me ringing the temple bell

The sliding type main wooden doors at the entrance of the temple opened only about one meter and therefore the inside of the temple was rather dark, which was ideal for meditation and praying. The main source of light inside the temple was a few light bulbs located at a height of about four meters. So it was very difficult to take photos of the nine meter tall statue of Buddha as almost no light reached near the face of the Buddha. But hubby succeeded in taking a few good photos of the statue.

The statue of giant Buddha

Hubby and me posed in front of the statue of Buddha to get a relative idea of its height. There was hardly any space in between the main entrance door of the temple and the statue. Therefore, for us to be in the photo with proper focus required a lot of hubby's skill at photography.

Me in front of the statue of Buddha

Hubby in front of the statue of Buddha

There were several small statues in one corner of the temple, which really looked very beautiful. We prayed in front of these statues also.

Hubby in front of several small statues

Me in front of several small statues

Outside the temple, there were several small statues of Jizo, the guardian deity of children. Historically, parents came to Hasedera to set up these statues in hopes that the deity would protect and watch over their children. Today, though, the Jizo statues represent the souls of miscarried, stillborn, and aborted children. Some of the statues were dressed in bibs. They looked very cute!

Statues of Jizo

Hubby made a video of our visit to Akata no Daibutsu.

We were in the temple for about two hours and really liked the place. Visiting the temple for sightseeing had a calming effect on me as well as hubby.

The following webpages are interesting and give information about the religion in Japan, Hasedera, and Kannon.

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