Ofuna Kan'non

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History

Constructed only recently in 1960, the Temple is apparently of less historic value than others in Kamakura. With its bright color and size, the bust statue of Kan'non stands out in the open air on the top of a hill and can easily be viewed from the train windows running on the Tokaido Line, East JR.. Passengers from Osaka and other western Japan visiting Tokyo by conventional trains are relieved to see the Statue because it signals their long journey is nearing an end.

The plan to construct a large Kan'non statue, even larger than Daibutsu (the Great Buddha) in Kotoku-in, was originally planned in 1929 by a volunteer group. The idea was aimed at spreading the teachings of Kan'non among the common people and purify the society. Kan'non is popularly called the Goddess of Mercy with its female-like, tender-heartened expressions, and has a broad variety of manifestations in shapes and forms, thirty-three transformations to be exact, in order to succor all suffering people.

Unfortunately, however, the construction was suspended halfway through in 1934 due to the Second Sino-Japanese war becoming imminent, and lack of funds. Pouring money into the construction of a Buddha statue may have made no sense at a time when Japan was desperate to build up military strength, and it was imperative to secure as much fund as possible for expanding armaments. Obviously, the Goddess of Mercy was way beyond politicians' thought, and moreover Japan rushed into the Pacific War in 1941. The statue's framework remained unattended for years.

In 1954, nine years after the end of World War II, an organization to resume the construction was formed inviting Priest Rosen Takanashi, the 71th chief priest of Eiheiji (the headquarters of the Soto Sect located in Fukui Prefecture), as the chief and founding priest. The members of both pre-war and post-war organizations were distinguished people actively engaged in the areas of politics, businesses, architectures, sculptures, paintings and so on. Backed by those people's contribution, the beautiful Statue was finally unveiled in April 1961. It had been 31 years since the original plan was laid out.

Rather than elaborating on the Statue itself, I would like to focus on and address the main promoters who volunteered to build the Statue.

Those who volunteered at the first phase in 1929

Kentaro Kaneko(1853-1942)
Born into a low-class samurai family in Fukuoka, he was regarded as highly gifted from childhood and gained recognition of the feudal lord in early years. The lord nominated him for a member of the mission to America in 1871. While in America, he entered Harvard University. After graduating from Law School, he returned to Japan and joined the political world. Took office as Justice Minister and are known as a member who drafted the Meiji Constitution. When the Russo-Japanese War broke out in 1904, he visited President Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), an alumnus, to explain and have him better understand Japan's position. A year later Japan won the war and the Treaty of Portsmouth was signed at Portsmouth, N.H. in 1905 through the mediation of President Roosevelt, whereby, Russia ceded to Japan in perpetuity and full sovereignty the southern portion of Sakhalin Island (down the 50th degree of north latitude). At the end of World War II, however, Russia declared war against Japan and invaded Manchuria, then Japan's territory, at the last moment on August 8, 1945, just two days after the Enola Gay aircraft dropped an A-bomb over Hiroshima and seven days before Japan surrendered. Not only did Russia retrieve Sakhalin, but occupied all of the neighboring islands off the northeast coast of Hokkaido. More than half a century have since passed, and yet both nations have not concluded a peace treaty pending the territorial issue.

Keigo Kiyoura (1850-1942)
Born in Kumamoto Prefecture as son of a Buddhist priest, he studied politics while in college and became a politician. Enrolled at the House of Peers, an exact copy of the British House of Lords, in 1891 by imperial nomination. After assuming the office of Justice, Agriculture and Home Affairs Ministers, he was named Prime Minister-Designate in 1914. However, he failed to form a cabinet due to opposition from the Minister of the Navy, who insisted to increase the budget for manufacturing more warships. Probably, his peace-oriented policy did not go well with the chief of the navy. In 1922, he was appointed the President of the Privy Council, and in January 1924, he was finally named Prime Minister but had to resign six months later.

The second phase in 1954

Masazumi Ando (1876-1955)
Born to a Buddhist priest's family in Tokyo, he started his career as a journalist. Assumed the editor-in-chief post at The Asahi Shimbun, one of the largest mass-circulation newspapers (today's circulation tops 8 million a day with pages 52 to 54 including the evening editions) in 1920. Thereafter, he was returned to the Lower House. When the nationalist party heading toward fascism was formed in 1941, he opposed their policy by organizing a new, peace-oriented party. After the war, he was re-elected as a member of the Liberal Party and was appointed Minister of State. In 1954, he helped form the Democratic Party and took the office of Education Minister. What he emphasized during his office in the Ministry was the moral education to restore moral consciousness among the people, which had been lost by the war. Probably because of this motive and his background raised in a Buddhist family, he supported the plan to erect the Temple. Before the war, he was president of Japan's Youth Buddhist Association and after the war, president of Japan Religion Organization. Remained a religious Buddhist priest throughout his entire life.

Keita Goto (1882-1959)
The founder of Tokyu Railway and its group. A railroad magnate like Jay Gould (1836-1892) and James Hills (1838-1916). Started as an owner of a small railroad company, he expanded it into a huge enterprise taking over one railroad company after another. It was the Japanese version of trust. At the same time, he went into housing project developing the areas along the railroads. At one time before the war, almost all of the railroads covering from the western part of Tokyo to Miura Peninsula had been controlled by him. Added to that he promoted department stores and railroad-related businesses making the group a Japanese conglomerate. As a result, he was dubbed as Robber Keita, the Japanese equivalent of the Robber Barons. (In Japanese, "Goto" is pronounced "go-toh", which has a similar sound to the word meaning "robber.") After the war, however, the railroad company was divided into today's Tokyu, Keio, Odakyu and Keihin Railways under the Decentralization Act of 1947. As is common for the super rich, he was also a philanthropist and donated a sizeable amount of money for the Statue construction. (For further details on Goto fighting against the archival robber baron, refer to Hakone Jinja Shrine.)

Isoya Yoshida (1894-1974)
A renowned architect. A member of the American Institute of Architect (AIA). After graduating from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1923, he went to Europe to study architecture. Beautiful and brilliant buildings in Florence constructed at the early Renaissance struck him with admiration. "A spectacular sight of dazzling gorgeousness," he said. European architectures seemed to have overwhelmed him. Returning to Japan, he focused more on the Japanese traditional architecture, in particular the style of tea-ceremony house called Sukiya, and became the foremost expert in this area. Sukiya style denotes, therefore, a residential architecture with delicate simplicity and suitable for performing the tea ceremony. A typical example of the style is found at the world famous Katsura Detached Palace in Kyoto. In 1964, he was appointed professor of the University and was conferred an Order of Cultural Merits the same year. Among the structures he designed is Iikura Kokan in Tokyo owned by the Foreign Ministry, the Japanese counterpart of the Blare House in Washington, D.C. He also designed Goto Museum in Tokyo founded by Keita Goto above. In Kamakura, the residence of Nobuko Yoshiya (1896-1973), a famous female novelist, located near Amanawa Jinja Shrine was also designed by him in Sukiya style.

Toyoichi Yamamoto (1899-1987)
A sculptor. Gifted with sculptural talent, his works were admitted to a various exhibitions from his early years. In 1924, he went to France and studied the European sculpture under Aristide Maillol (1861-1944), whose works were introduced into Japan by Yamamoto. Maillol would not have been as popular in Japan as is today but for his efforts. As bronze was getting scarcer in the mid 1930s, he changed the sculpture technique to the dry-lacquered method, often employed for producing Buddha statues during the Nara Period (710-794), and explored a modern technique for sculpture based on the dry-lacquer. Professor at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music during 1953-1967. Named as a Person of Cultural Merit in 1983 by the National Government.

Junzo Sakakura (1901-1969)
A prominent architect, he played a pivotal part in Japanese architecture. After graduating from Tokyo University, he went to Europe like Isoya Yoshida above, and studied architecture under Le Corbusier (1887-1965) in France. What made him world-famous was the Japan Pavilion he designed and built at the site of the World Expo' in Paris 1937. Its unique structure having both modern architectural technology and traditional Japanese elements brought him Grand Prix. Returning to Japan, he established an architectural consultant and designed a wide array of architectures. Among them is Kanagawa Modern Museum situated at the north side of the Heike Pond in the grounds of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. It was reputed to be a masterpiece in the Showa Era (1926-1989), or during the period Emperor Hirohito was on the throne. For your reference, the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo was designed by Le Corbusier.


The Statue

Made of reinforced concrete, its dimensions measure 25.4 meters in height, 18.6 meters in width, and weighs 1,915 tons. If she stood up, connoisseurs say, she would be 66 meters tall, or 2.5 times as tall as the Great Buddha (Daibutsu) at Kotoku-in. Wearing a cream-white robe, it is generally called byaku-e {byah-koo-eh} (white robe) Kan'non. A closer look will reveal that it puts on a necklace-like accessary called yoraku (Keyura in Skt.) and surmounting the head is a statuette of Amida (Amitabha in Skt.) under the hood, which is called kebutsu in Japanese. It is rare for s Soto Sect temple to enshrine Kan'non as the main object of worship.

Visitors can go inside the Statue from the right-hand path. The interior is like a small temple hall and enshrined in the recess is a small statue of Sho-Kan'non (Arya-Avalokitesvara in Skt.), one-twentieth the size of the outer Statue. This is the very statue that was created by Yoshida and Yamamoto referred to above. Also installed in the hall are two Kan'non statues, one older and the other new.

Monument to the memory of Hibakusha

To the left of the Statue and down the hill stands a monument to the memory of A-bomb victims in Hiroshima. As mentioned earlier, the Enola Gay dropped the world's first A-bomb Little Boy on August 6, 1945 over Hiroshima, followed by the second one Fat Man over Nagasaki on August 9. About 200,000 people in both cities were killed, or wounded or missing, and many suffered sequlae. In case of Hiroshima, the Little Boy, equivalent to 12.5 kilotons of TNT, exploded at an altitude of 580 meters, 43 seconds after it was dropped, creating a huge fireball and a mushroom cloud of smoke that rose 9,000 meter in the air. It flattened the cities in one blow with shockwave and thermal heat ranging from 3,000 to 4,000 degrees Celsius. Hibakusha, or those who was nuked, living in Kanagawa built this monument in April 1970 at the 25th anniversary to propitiate the souls of the victims and to pray to God that never again would such a tragedy fall on mankind.

The monument looks toward Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Three legs denote Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Bikini Atoll. Why Bikini Atoll? When America tested H-bomb on March 1, 1954 on Bikini Atoll in Marshall Island located in the Central Pacific Ocean under the code name of Bravo, a Japanese fishing boat was operating nearby, and 23 crew were exposed to the radiation. One of them, Aikichi Kuboyama (1914-1954), a radio operator, died several months later. Placed on the pedestal are symbolic materials for the three: (1) A cornerstone brought from Seirenji in Hiroshima that had been situated near the hypocenter. On the cornerstone had been a statue of Jizo Bosatsu (Ksitigarbha in Skt.). (2) A garden stone brought from Urakami Roman Catholic Church in Nagasaki. (3) Three wires Kuboyama used while he was working on the fishing@boat near Bikini Atoll. The logo in front of the monument is for the World Conference against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs.

The structure appearing behind the monument is Jikodo Hall, in which Zazen, or sit-in meditation, takes place.
Incidentally, the Temple is an affiliate of Mokusenji standing at the rear side of the Statue.

Annual Observances

(Updated August 2013)


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