Ushiku City is home to the Ushiku Daibutsu, recognised in the Guiness Book of Records as the world’s largest standing statue of Buddha. At 120m tall, its imposing figure can be seen from several kilometers away. Standing directly before the Daibutsu and looking up is quite an awe inspiring experience. To give you an idea of just how big this statue is, when you venture inside there is a replica of one of the Daibutsu’s big toes. It alone is around 160cm tall!
The Daibutsu is surrounded by 2km2 of gardens, which are filled with seasonal flowers. In early April the cherry blossom trees and moss phlox bloom. From mid April to late May, the ground becomes a carpet of poppies and gypsophila flowers. In autumn (October-November), the gardens are filled with adorable cosmos flowers. It is definitely worth timing your visit with spring or autumn, as the sight of the Daibutsu standing in the middle of a brightly coloured carpet of flowers is really something.
There are also a number of events held at the Daibutsu throughout the year. As the inside of the Daibutsu is a temple, you can visit for hatsumode (the first temple or shrine visit of the year) on January 1. In April you can witness the ‘Infant Presentation Ceremony’ (hatsumairi), a ceremony where a child is presented for the first time to the Amida Buddha. The mantoue festival (Ten Thousand Lantern Festival), held in August in the grounds around the Daibutsu, is truly spectacular.
Once you buy your ticket at the entrance, you walk through to a wide path that leads to the Daibutsu. You can ring a bell at the gate (it is very loud! But the echo creates a strangely peaceful feeling, so I would recommend giving it a go). On your way to the statue you’ll find a carp pond, where you can buy a bag of fish food for 100 yen and feed them.
You can go inside the Daibutsu, and take an elevator 85m up to the chest area. As the inside of the Daibutsu is a temple, so you must take your shoes off before you enter. You go inside in groups, and first you will listen to a short introduction by a staff member, and all the lights will go out. The next room you go into is softly lit and filled with small colourful Buddha statues and incense. The mystical background music creates a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere. The second floor contains artworks and photos of the Daibutsu’s construction. From there, you can take the elevator up to the Daibutsu’s chest and look out small windows. On a clear day, you can even see Tokyo Sky Tree from there. If you have a shuin-cho (red stamp book), you can get a stamp here. Alternatively, if you do not have one, and would like to start collecting temple stamps, you can by a shuin-cho and receive your first stamp.
Next you take the elevator down to the Lotus Sanctuary on the third floor. Prepare to be amazed – the Lotus Sanctuary houses over 3000 golden statues of Buddha. They line the walls from floor to ceiling. The statues commemorate people who have died.
Outside, there is a small petting zoo with a variety of cute critters, mainly rabbits, guinea pigs, and squirrels. Entry is included in your ticket, and you can pay for a bag of food to feed the animals with.
A visit to the Ushiku Daibutsu is highly recommended. As it was only completed in 1993, it tends to be lesser known even within Japan compared to the seated Nara Todai-ji Daibutsu, but what it lacks in fame it makes up for with its impressive size and otherworldly atmosphere.
The Daibutsu is open 365 days a year from 9:30am to 4:30pm. Between April and November, adult tickets are 800 yen, and children’s tickets are 400 yen. From December to March, adult tickets drop to 700 yen. Parking is available on site. If you are travelling via public transport, it is a 30 minute bus ride from Ushiku Station on the JR Joban line.