Daibutsu: The Giant Buddhas of Japan

giant buddha statue

daibutsu: the giant buddhas of japan

Aaron Pylinski | Community Writer

Touring Japan in search of the many daibutsu - or Giant Buddha - is a great way to add Zen to your cultural diet. Buddhism came to Japan from China by way of Korea in the 6th Century. Close to 90 million people in Japan consider themselves Buddhists. Outside of funerals and small altars in their houses, most don’t carry out their days in a devout Buddhist way.

Though most Japanese may not carry out daily Buddhist rituals, what they do have is daibutsu and daibutsuden - or Great Buddha Halls - which house the Giant Buddhas and are a holy temple for the Buddhist religion. Dozens of these gargantuan tributes to Buddha were erected post-WWII, mostly for commercial reasons. We’ve pulled together ten that are a must see while in Japan.

The biggest, must-see daibutsu is the Nara Daibutsu and the Todaiji Daibutsuden, or Temple Hall of the Great Buddha. The statue stands 15 meters (49 feet) without the pedestal, weighs in at 250 tons, and was constructed out of bronze in 752. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara and also a national treasure. The daibutsuden that houses this mega Buddha is considered the largest wooden building in the world. The daibutsu experienced its fair share of calamity seeing various reconstructions in 1180, 1185, 1567, and 1692. The statue and temple are in the city of Nara, northeast of Osaka. Represents: Vairocana - the Celestial or Primordial Buddha who is said to be the Buddhist concept of emptiness.


The Ushiku Daibutsu was listed as the tallest statue in the world by Guinness Book of World Records until 2002. It stands 100 meters (328 feet), weighs 4,400 tons, is made out of bronze, and constructed in 1993. You can actually go inside this statue. There are four stories with an elevator taking you up to the third story observation deck. The daibutsu was erected to honor the birth of Shinran who founded the True Pure Land School of Buddhism. It is located in Ushiku, which is northeast of Tokyo. Represents: Amida Nyorai - the principal Buddha in Pure Land Buddhism.

Nihon-ji Daibutsu, the Great Buddha of Nihon-ji stands tall at 31.05 meters (102 feet) and was carved into a stone mountain face of Mount Nokogiri in the 1780s and ‘90s. This daibutsu is considered Japan’s largest pre-modern, stone carved giant Buddha. This stone-faced giant Buddha is massive and is kept company by 1500 other statues. Being in its presence alone yields to the greatness of life as a whole. This giant Buddha is located in the city of Kyonan, directly south of Tokyo. Represents: Yakushiji Nyorai - the Buddha of healing.

The Great Showa Daibutsu of Seiryu-ji represents the Buddha in a meditation pose. It stands 21.35 meters (70 feet) tall, is made of bronze, and was completed in 1984. This giant Buddha is the tallest seated bronze daibutsu in Japan. This statue sees the most visitors in August during obon. Sadly, this is also the location where parents who have recently lost children come to pray for the pacification of their souls. It is located in Aomori at the very northern tip of the main Japanese island of Honshu. Represents: Dainichi Nyorai - the central deity of Esoteric Buddhism.


The Takaoka Daibutsu, or Great Buddha of Takaoka was originally built in 1221 and has seen many renovations. Originally constructed of wood, it was burned down and destroyed by natural disasters multiple times before finally being re-erected as a 65-ton monolithic copper statue in 1933 and now stands at 15.85 meters (52 feet) tall. This is claimed to be one of the three great Buddhas of Japan along with the Nara and Kamakura daibutsu. The statue is located in Toyama City west of Nagano. Represents: Amida Nyorai - the principal Buddha in Pure Land Buddhism.

The Kamakura Daibutsu is a giant bronze statue that weighs 125 tons. It is 13.35 meters (44 feet) tall and was erected in 1252. Seated in a meditation pose, the statue is hollow allowing visitors to venture inside. This statue is regarded as a historical monument and is of slight international fame being the subject of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Buddha at Kamakura.” This daibutsu is located in Kamakura, south of Tokyo. Represents: Amida Nyorai - the principal Buddha in Pure Land Buddhism.

The Asuka Daibutsu is said to be the oldest surviving daibutsu, cast in 609. It stands at 2.75 meters (9 feet) tall and is constructed out of bronze. With this being the oldest daibutsu in Japan, some say it is also the first since Buddhism was introduced to Japan almost a century earlier. Located in Asuka southeast of Osaka. Represents: The Shaka Buddha - The historical Buddha and Yakushiji Nyorai - the Buddha of healing.

In the Japanese capital of Tokyo stands the Tokyo Daibutsu. The 30-ton statue was erected in 1977 out of bronze. It stands 13 meters (43 feet) tall and it was built to commemorate the victims of the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 and the Great Tokyo Air Raid of 1945. It was also built to protect the area from natural disasters and pray for a better future. It is located in Itabashi City in Tokyo.

Something a little different than all other great Buddha statues is the lying Nehanzo Daibutsu. At 41 meters (135 feet) long this daibutsu is said to be the longest lying daibutsu in the world. Erected in 1995, this 300-ton bronze statue is hollow on the inside where visitors can go inside and observe the enshrined ashes of Gautama Buddha. The position of this daibutsu is said to symbolize Buddha’s death and entry into Nirvana. This statue is located in Sasaguri in the Fukuoka Prefecture. Represents: Gautama Buddha.

Gifu Daibutsu is unique in its construction. Standing at 13.63 meters (45 feet) tall, it is made of Ginkgo wood, Bamboo, clay, and covered in gold leaf. It is considered the largest statue of its kind based on its method construction. It was conceived in the 18th century but wasn’t finished until 1832. Located in Gifu northeast of Kyoto. Represents: Shaka Nyorai - The historical Buddha.

If you are interested in hardening your soul in discipline and finding a Zen-centered life or just want to experience another part of Japanese culture, go visit these daibutsu. Cultural Adaptation and Information Referral & Relocation Services are always available to facilitate getting out to see these monolithic tributes to Buddha or provide further information on what they are. Cultural Adaptation is in Bldg. 411 on the 1st Fl. their phone number is 253-6165. Information Referral & Relocation Services is located in Bldg. 411 in Rm. 101, their phone number is 253-6161.



  • Walk on the left side when entering a shrine through a torii gate. Never
    walk through the middle, this is reserved for the gods.
  • Cleanse yourself at the well. Here’s how: fill the ladle with water using
    your right hand, pour water on your left hand and then your right hand,
    with remaining water pour into your left hand and rinse your mouth
    (spit into the drain - DO NOT DRINK FROM THE LADLE). When finished,
    return ladle to its original position.
  • Once you’ve reached the main shrine, honor the gods by bowing
    slightly, place a coin in the box in front of you, if a bell is present, ring it
    two times, bow two times, clap your hands two times, pray and offer
    thanks to the gods, and finally bow again after your prayers.
  • When you are leaving, remember to walk on the left side, turn, and
    bow once more.


  • After cleansing yourself (see left), burn an incense stick. Never light your incense with another stick, this means you are taking another’s sin.
  • The only other difference between a temple and a shrine is you don’t clap before praying at a temple.