The Great Goddess of Mercy Facing the Pacific Ocean
Kamaishi Daikannon is a standing statue of Bodhisattva Kannon, located on the coast of Kamaishi in Iwate prefecture and overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The sculpture is nearly fifty meters high with an observatory laid out in its chest, and displays various Buddhist deities representations inside its hollow lower part.
The beautiful, entirely white statue of extraordinary size was built in 1970, on the commission of Kamaishi’s Sekiozen-ji temple. Kannon is facing the ocean to offer her compassion to the victims of past wars and tsunami, so they can be admitted in the nirvana, the Buddhist paradise. In the Buddhist mythology, Kannon is an emanation of Buddha’s compassionate love for all living beings and is also known as Avalokitesvara in India. She can be pictured in various positions and shapes and be either masculine or feminine. Compassion is by the way, one of the most important virtues in traditional Buddhism.
The secret giant statue
Surprisingly, one must really look for the statue to find it. Located away from the city center and the port, Dai-Kannon is "hidden" in the coastal landscape in the south-east of Kamaishi, close to the Iron and Steel History Museum. It is therefore difficult to spot it from afar, and it is only when at the foot of the hill it is standing on that one can view it.
The plaza at its foot, reachable by an escalator, distributes the usual functions of a Buddhist temple, such as the chozuya purification fountain, a statue of Jizo, the Bodhisattva protector of children and travelers, and a main hall shaped as a white stupa. Initiates will be interested by the latter, as it shelters remains of Shaka Buddha (not viewable) offered by an important Sri Lankan monk to Kamaishi’s temple in 1975, and two paintings of the nirvana. Another room displays sculptures of the great Buddhist schools’ founders.
A spectacular panoramic view
However, visitors are charmed by the wonderful panoramic view on the bay that unfolds at the base of the statue. The Pacific Ocean appears in the horizon and adds immensity to the site. The walk crosses a beautiful reproduction a little traditional red bridge, and a photo spot for couples in front of a somehow kitschy decor made of a heart-shaped metallic sculpture to which a bell is suspended. There is also a small text by Yumi Katsura, the first designer of European-style wedding gowns in Japan. The place smoothly combines spirituality and folklore, in a mix between a temple and an observatory.
The observatory and the Seven Lucky Gods
The last, but not the least, part of the visit, is inside the statue, starting with a little temple dedicated to Kannon. A couple of stairways lead to a round-shaped room whose walls are covered with thirty-three different representations of the deity. Another spiral staircase climbs to the highest accessible place, the observatory. Statues of the famous Seven Lucky Gods are scattered along the way. Lastly, nestled in the arms of Kannon, the viewing platform Gyoran Tenbodai offers an unobstructed view on the seascape that is really worth the effort, with a clear picture of the surrounding small creeks and mountains.
There are naturally many other large representations of Kannon to see throughout the archipelago. In the Tohoku area, for example, Sendai Daikannon is one of the Bodhisattva’s tallest statues in the world, culminating at 100 meters high.