Most of the Buddha statues erected throughout Japan depict the religion’s founder sitting neatly in meditation. But one Buddhist temple complex nestled high in the lushly forested mountains east of Fukuoka City depicts the Buddha reclining on his side, moments before he enters parinirvana—the moment of death. The Nanzoin Temple Buddha stands out for another, likely more apparent reason, as well: standing 135 feet long, 36 feet tall, and weighing in at almost 300 tons, this is one of the largest bronze statues on earth.
Nazo-in Temple is a multi-faceted Shingon Buddhist temple complex framed in idyllic forest surroundings, and the crown jewel of the Sasaguri Pilgrimage—a several-day, 31-mile (50 km) hike visiting 88 Buddhist temples along the southern tip of Japan. While adherents flock from far and wide to pray at this impressive complex, locals weren’t always enthused by the temple.
In fact, its location in the quaint forest village of Sasaguri is not even its original home. After it was first established in 1886 on Mt. Koya, anti-Buddhist groups are said to have threatened to deface the temple such that it was relocated in 1899. The temple slowly expanded in a more peaceful setting over the following century, erecting the giant Buddha, known as Nehanzo, in 1995. It houses the ashes of Buddha and two of his attendants, Ananda and Maudgalyanya, given as a gift from the Buddhist Council of Myanmar to express gratitude for Nanzo-in’s long-standing donation of medical supplies to the children of Southeast Asia. A string from Buddha’s left hand runs the length of the pathway leading up to the statue. On the hill below the reclining figure are 500 statues of various disciples, each with a distinct posture and facial expression.
Aside from Nehanzo, the temple features several walking paths through the dense forest which lead to waterfalls, caves, ponds, and other natural features dotting the mountaintop.
Know Before You Go
Note the extensive rules on how not to visit Nanzoin found on their website. Please keep in mind this is a functioning temple and should be visited calmly, respectfully, and in adherence to the rules established by the monks who oversee this sacred site.