The Nehanzo of Nanzoin Temple: The Biggest Bronze Statue in the World? 南蔵院
Nanzoin Temple in Sasaguri, Fukuoka Prefecture, is home to what is possibly the world's biggest bronze statue.
I say possibly, because after hours of research I can find none bigger, and it is certainly the biggest bronze Reclining Buddha statue, but if it is the biggest bronze statue in the world then why is it so little known?
The Reclining Buddha's dimensions are impressive, 41 meters in length, 11 meters in height, and weighing in at 300 tons (about the weight of a jumbo jet), it dwarfs the famous giant bronze Buddha statues of Kamakura and Nara, (13m high, 93 tons, and 15m high, 250 tons, respectively), though it is much younger than those venerable, older statues, being completed in 1995.
There are three basic poses for statues of the Buddha, sitting, standing and reclining.
In Japan, by far the most common type is the sitting pose, representing the Buddha meditating, the least common is the reclining pose representing the Buddha at the point of his death entering Nirvana (nehan in Japanese).
The Reclining Buddha is far more common in South East Asian countries such as Thailand, Laos and especially Myanmar, and it is Myanmar that provides a link to Sasaguri's statue.
For many years Nanzoin has been sending aid to Myanmar and Nepal and to show their gratitude the Myanmar Buddhist Council gave Nanzoin some of the Buddha's ashes and the Nehanzo was constructed to house them.
There is no information as to the cost of building the statue, though it must have been expensive, the construction of the Nara Daibutsu almost bankrupted the government back in the eighth century Nara Period, but the word in Sasaguri is that the head priest of the Nanzoin had won the lottery several times.
There is much more to Nanzoin than the giant Nehanzo. Nanzoin Temple is a large complex with many chapels and shrines scattered over the hillside. Nanzoin was moved here in 1899 from Mount Koya, the huge temple complex in Wakayama that is the headquarters of the Shingon sect.
There is an impressively large Fudo Myo-o statue as well as 500 statues of the Buddha's disciples (arhat), also an Inari Shrine and a shrine dedicated to the Shichifukujin, the seven lucky gods of Japan.
An estimated million people visit Nanzoin each year, though many do not come for the Nehanzo but for the Sasaguri Pilgrimage.
Over the years many smaller replicas of the Shikoku pilgrimage have been set up all over the country varying in size from the new one on the island of Kyushu at close to 2,000km in length to the 110km pilgrimage route on Shodoshima to ones less than 100m long, wherein a temple will set up 88 statues (or 88 containers of soil from each of the Shikoku temples) for pilgrims to visit.
The Sasaguri pilgrimage falls in between, being about 44 kilometers long, and taking 3 days to complete. It was set up in the early 19th century, and unlike many others actually has connections to Kobo Daishi who spent time on nearby Mount Wakasugi, where about half of the Sasaguri Pilgrimage sites are located.
Of the 88 sites, only 26 are full size temples, the rest are small huts containing statues or in a few cases simple memorial stones. Nanzoin is temple #1 of the route though many pilgrims start at different temples. The high point of the pilgrimage route is the Okunoin at 681 meters altitude on top of Mount Wakasugi. Most of the temples have tea rooms and rest areas for the benefit of the pilgrims.
Nanzoin is a three minute walk from Kido Nanzoin-mae Station on the JR Sasaguri Line (part of the larger Fukuhoku Yutaka Line) which runs from Keisen Station to Yoshizuka Station in Fukuoka prefecture. Express trains from Hakata Station take 21 minutes to Kido Nanzoin-mae Station, local trains 24 minutes.
Nanzoin is open year-round, 9am-5pm.
Entrance to the temple is free although there is a 500 yen charge to enter the prayer room underneath the Nehanzo Buddha.
1035 Sasaguri-machi, Kasuya-gun, Fukuoka, 811-2405.
Tel: 092 947 7195