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Monumental statue makes special trip worthwhile. TRAVEL: KAMAKURA'S `GREAT BUDDHA'

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THERE are lots of reasons to take the one-hour train ride here from Tokyo: candlelit caves, a lotus lake, peony gardens, the lantern-lined main street. Kamakura is a town as elegant in its contemporary style as it is enchanting, with historic and cultural interest. There are no fewer than 65 temples and 19 shrines in this former seat of shogunate government, now a classy suburb. But you don't really need any of these reasons beyond the ``Daibutsu,'' the most subtly stirring statue I've seen on a month-long excursion through China, Korea, and Japan.

The Japanese word for ``Great Buddha,'' ``Daibutsu'' is a representation of Buddha Amitabha, the Lord of the Western Pure Land, and is worshiped by the great majority of Japanese Buddhists. The statue is so serene in its majesty that it might be best described in poetry, and many have tried. I like this prose description in Bayart Taylor's book, ``Japan'':

``The Monument ... may be considered as the most complete work of the Japanese genius, in regard both to art and to the religious sentiment..., a gigantic, seated divinity of bronze, with folded hands, and head gently inclined in an attitude of contemplative ecstasy. ... There is irresistible charm in the posture, ... in the harmony of his bodily proportions, in the noble simplicity of his drapery, and in the calmness and serenity of the countenance.''

The statue was constructed in 1252 at the request of Idanono-Tsubone, a lady attendant of Shogun Yoritomo (1147-1199), who led the nationwide fund raising for the project.

A first image, completed in wood after five years of continuous labor, was destroyed in a storm. The one we see today, measuring 38 feet high and crafted with 93 tons of bronze, was housed in various wood structures through the years, each destroyed by fire, storm, or tidal wave. Since 1495, the Buddha - hollow as a bell - has stood out of doors.


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