Enlightenment aide without abdomen
Of course, I’m aware of the fact that it could be regarded as disrespectful to link a Bodhisattva to something that sounds more like a vaudeville act, but in the case of the Kannon statue of Ōfuna (大船 / おおふな) one feels almost compelled to do so.
It is highly likely that many of those who travel to Kamakura, coming from Yokohama or Tōkyō, have seen the enormous statue while passing Ōfuna station (at least those who were lucky enough to have a window seat on the right side of the train). She is sitting enthroned on the top the lush green of a hill on the west side of the station. Neverthess, it is just as likely, that only a few of those travelling to Kamakura have taken the time for a small detour to the Kannon statue – despite the fact that it is absolutely worth it!
The history of the Kannon statue of Ōfuna is a rather short one – nevertheless it is not completely free of contradictory details (most of which may be due to faulty translations and calculations).
The idea of such a statue goes back to an initiative of the honorable Mr. Kaneko, Mr. Tōyama and Mr. Hanada, who, in February 1927, called for a convention for the erection of such a grand statue and for the collection of the funds needed for it: 150,000 Yen for the statue as such and additional 50,000 Yen for additional buildings.
Construction work started on 14 April 1929 – and the aim was to build the greatest Kannon in all of Japan. And here is were data gets a little obscure. The numbers of the envisaged height of the sculpture range fom 40 metres to 330 metres (even in various language versions of the website of temple itself – obviously the conversion from Japanese “shaku” to western “metres” is something of a challenge).
But, as a matter of fact, the original blueprints of the construction had to be altered due to the conditions of the foundation soil. In the end the whole plan was scrapped in 1934 in conjunction with the worlds financial crisis and a new focus that was required due to Japan’s new imperial ambitions.
It was only after World War II, in 1953, when the plan to build such a grand sculpture was revived by founding a new “Ōfuna Kannon Society“. The foundation stone was laid on 18 May 1957, and already on 28 April 1960 the opening ceremony could be held. The gigantic statue we can see today is completely “hand made” – the reinforced concrete was built without the use of modern machinery. The concrete surface has been covered and sealed with ecru white colour. With a total height of 25 metres and a total weight of 1,900 tons, it is almost a miracle that this statue seems to float over the forest and the hill it is standing on.
Between 1969 and 1970 an additional memorial for the Kanagawa prefecture’s victims of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki was erected beneath the Kannon. Since 1990 the eternal flames from the memorials in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were brought here and has been burning ever since. Also fragments of buildings destroyed in the hypocentres of the atomic explosions in the two devastated cities can be seen here.
In 1979 the “Ōfuna Kannon Society“ decided to convert into a religious organisation, which finally came to pass when it was made part of the Sōtō sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism (the largest of the three main schools of Japanese Buddhism) on 20 November 1981. The Sōji-ji in Yokohama is the principal of the Kannon-ji.
But it is not just the impressive exterior of the statue that should be of interest. The interior is no less worth a look. Some years ago the “inside” of the state was converted into a small and rather modern museum, where lots of information can be gathered about the statue and its history.
Addresse of the Ōfuna Kannon-ji:
Location of the Ōfuna Kannon-ji:
How to get there:
If you come from Tōkyō or Yokohama you have all the choices Japan Rail has to offer: the Tokaido mainline, the Shōnan-Shinjuku line, the Keihin-Tōhoku line, the Yokosuka line – they all bring you to Ōfuna station (大船 / おおふな). Approaching Ōfuna coming from Enoshima (江の島 / えのしま) you can even treat yourself with the ride on the Shōnan Monorail (a “floating” or overhead railway).
Adults (from high school): 300 Yen
Children (from elementary school): 100 Yen
Pre-school cildren: fee
There are discounts for goups of 20 and more people.
Daily from 9 am to 5 pm (last entry: 4.30 pm).