Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Making History

I went to see the Echizen Daibutsu on Friday afternoon (Guidebook translation: "The Great Image of Buddha at Echizen". Simpler translation: "The Big Buddha".) Below you can see the main temple building, "The Hall of the Great Buddha".

It was a pretty strange old place... Although the buildings have been contructed in the traditional style, the entire complex only dates back to 1987. What looks like ancient wood and stone in the photos below is, for the most part, poured concrete.

According to the guide book, a local millionaire donated his entire fortune for the construction of the 22 hectare temple in order to "show his gratitude for his great success as a powerful and influential businessman". However, despite his extravagance, the project is said to have become something of a white elephant, and is rumoured to be losing money. I can well believe that - on Friday we were the only people there, except for a rather lonely looking woman behind the cashier desk.

Personally, I was pretty impressed with the whole place, not least because of its sheer size. "The Hall of the Great Buddha" has a 17 metre tall cast-iron statue of Buddha, which, as the guide book boasts, "surpasses the height of the Great Image of Buddha at Nara". And let's not forget the 75 metre tall five storey pagoda - "a height which surpasses that of the To-Ji Temple in Kyoto". The whole place is full of this kind of one-upmanship - you can tell that the builders realised they couldn't compete with Kyoto or Nara for history, so they thought they'd just make everything bigger. It's sort of endearing really...

Even though it's been created with modern building techniques it's hard not to admire the craftmanship - a lot of time and effort has obviously been spent making this place look beautiful, and the thousands of statues which cover the walls are testament to that fact. Many people regard the Daibutsu as a bit of a joke - an attempt to create a bit of artificial history - but the fact remains that it's still a fantastic looking building.

And besides, thanks to constant earthquakes and typhoons, there are very few genuinely historical buildings left in Japan anyway. A great example is Osaka Castle.

This is what the Osaka tourism website has to say about the ancient edifice:

"Osaka Castle has a history of more than 400 years.It was originally built by one of the greatest warlords in the history of Japan, a man who was born the son of a humble farmer. The castle now stands as the symbol of Osaka."

"Wow!", you think, "A 400 year old castle built by the greatest warlord in Japan! That's amazing".

Then you click on "More On Osaka Castle", which is when you discover that the castle isn't 400 years old at all. In fact, in the past 400 years it has been completely destroyed three times.

The current Osaka Castle was actually built in 1931.

From concrete.

But if it looks good, and people enjoy looking round it, does it really matter?


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