Nihonji temple, the oldest Buddhist temple in Kanto, with the largest Daibutsu in Japan

 

Daibutsu statue on Nokogiri Mountain in Chiba, Japan. Jingorō Eirei Ōno and his apprentices completed the sculpture in 1783. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Daibutsu statue on Nokogiri Mountain in Chiba, Japan. Jingorō Eirei Ōno and his apprentices completed the sculpture in 1783. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The largest Daibutsu statue of Kanto is located in Nihonji Temple, which is the oldest Buddhism temple in Kanto built in 725.  Its gross height is 31.05 meters.

The name of Nihonji Daibutsu is Yakushi-rurikonyorai (薬師瑠璃光如来), which represent the entire universe and space, which is the Pure Land, and the Daibutsu is believed to lead the world to peace and safety. Yakushi Nyorai, the Healing Buddha, is the one of the earliest and most popular forms of Buddha, and popular during the age. 

The name “Nihon” which is the also the name of Japan, was given by the Emperor Shomu / Syoumu(聖武天皇). The temple was founded in the Nara period in 725 by order of Emperor Shōmu by the priest Gyōki(668–749). The temple is considered to be the Kantō region‘s sole Nara period chokugansho (勅願所), or temple built by order of the emperor.

The temple is located on the slopes of Mount Nokogiri, Chiba prefecture. Nihon-ji was established as a Hossō sect temple, was transferred to the Tendai sect, and is now aSōtō Zen temple. Since its founding the temple has fallen into ruin and seen revival numerous times.

During its heyday the Nara period, the temple had seven great halls, twelve smaller halls, and was home to 100 monks. By tradition Nihon-ji was visited in the Nara period by Rōben (689–774), a monk of the Kegon sect and founder of the Tōdai-ji in Nara, and later by Kūkai (774–835), founder of the Shingon or “True Word” school of Buddhism. In 857, by opportunity of a visit to the temple by the monk Ennin (793 or 794–864), Nihon-ji was transferred to the Tendai school of Buddhism.

Minamoto no Yoritomo was associated with the rebuilding of Nihon-ji. In 1181 he ordered the building of the jizō statue in the hōdō (法堂) lecture hall. In 1271 the area came under the control of the Nikaidō clan, and Nihon-ji is mentioned as Awa no Kuni Nihon-ji in the clan history. Nihon-ji was burned during a local conflict 1331 and many of the temple structures, including the dōu hall, were destroyed. Ashikaga Takauji (1305–1358), founder and first shōgun of the Ashikaga shogunate, rebuilt Nihon-ji. Takauji built the dōu (堂宇) eaved main hall in 1345, but during the Sengoku period the temple again fell into decline. In the Tenshō era (1573–1592) of the Momoyama period Nihon-ji came under the protection of the powerful Satomi clan of Awa Province. During this period it became a subordinate temple of the Awa Seizen-in. In 1647 the temple was transferred to the Sōtō Zen sect, and Nihon-ji became a center of ascetic Zen practices. Nihon-ji came under the control of Enmei-ji, a temple in present-day Minamibōsō. During the Sengoku period the temple again fell into ruin.

In 1774 the priest Guden (愚伝), the 9th chief Hōsō priest of Nihon-ji, carried out a large-scale revival of the garan, or temple complex. In 1774 Guden relocated the dōu temple hall, as well as many other structures of the temple, to the southern side of the middle of Mount Nokogiri. This transformed Mount Nokogiri into a sacred mountain. The Nihon-ji Daibutsu was built in this period, as well as the 1,553 rakan Arhat stone statues.

 

Sources:

Nihon-ji (Wikipedia)

Nihonji Daibutsu

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