The Surprising Reason The Great Buddha Now Lives Outside

The famous statue used to have a house of its own

Grant Piper

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(Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0)

In the ancient city of Kamakura, Japan, a giant Buddha statue sits outside under open skies. Its bronze skin has gained a patina of age similar to that of the Statue of Liberty. The massive statue is nearly 800 years old and is considered a national treasure by the Japanese. Today, it is one of the many historical features of Kamakura, and it draws crowds every year who come to pay their respects to the image of Amitābha.

What most people don’t know is that this statue used to live inside. It had a massive temple hall dedicated to it, and it was protected from the elements. The original statue was made from wood before it was recast in bronze. Bronze is able to keep its appearance much sharper and cleaner when it is kept inside. So what happened?

A Massive Tsunami

In 1498, Christopher Columbus was exploring the northern coast of Venezuela just six years after he had made the miraculous discovery of the New World. Back in Japan, blissfully unaware of what was happening in the Western Hemisphere, the Japanese were dealing with the aftermath of a massive tsunami.

On this day in history, September 20th, 1498, a massive magnitude 8.6 tremblor rumbled off the eastern coast of Japan. The shockwaves caused a huge tsunami to swell up and crash into the coast. The results were catastrophic. Records from this time are sketchy and hard to come by but estimates put the casualty numbers between 5,000 and 50,000 for the Japanese.

The best example of the tsunami’s power was what happened to the Great Buddha at Kamakura. Up until this point, the Buddha statue had lived in a large hall. The statue was built around 1250 CE, and from that point until 1498, the statue was associated with a large building that housed it. The building had gone through its own periods of disaster. It had been damaged by severe storms multiple times over the years, and each time the hall had been damaged, it was repaired or rebuilt.

The Meiō earthquake ruined nearly 250 years of work on the Buddha’s sacred hall.

The tsunami was so large and powerful that it rushed into the streets of Kamakura and…

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Grant Piper

Professional writer. Amateur historian. Husband, father, Christian.