Did you know that the “Christ the Redeemer” statue in Brazil (one of the modern seven wonders of the world,) towers over the city of Rio De Janeiro at a ridiculous 124 ft? You did? Well did you know that there is a famous Buddhist statue in Takasaki, Japan that is even taller? Who would’ve guessed?
When I first arrived in Takasaki, everyone that I met took it upon themselves to give me a list (albeit a small one) of the absolute best things to do in Takasaki. The typical first conversation with someone (anyone really) went as follows: “ERMAGERSH WHITE PERSON WHERE THE FRICK ARE YOU FROM?” followed by the usual polite introductions, and then, of course, “Go see the Dai-Kannon!” “You have to visit the giant statue.” “Go check out the giant concrete lady!” etc. So, after months of saying at the end of (nearly) every Friday, “I’m finally gonna go see the lady this weekend!” I finally went.
Fortunately for me, my company gave me a car when I got to Japan. Unfortunately for me, that car was the cheapest hunk of metal on the market and had an engine that was (I assume) not much stronger than a moped’s. Let me tell you, that was not a fun drive up the mountain. Nope. It was a 30-minute adrenaline-fueled panic fest, and believe it or not, the fact that the roads were the size of a typical American one-way street and the only way to see around corners while going 30mph was looking through tiny corner mirrors did not help at ALL.
But at last, I arrived — mentally scarred, yes, but otherwise alive. I parked my car on the side of the road, (hey everyone else was doing it too stop judging me,) and started my hike up to the giant lady. “So Leah,” you may be asking, “was it really worth all the trouble?” In a simple answer — heck yes. The road to the statue was lined on the right by thick bushes, tall trees, and tiny stone guardians sticking their head out to peep at the passing strangers. On the left-hand side of the path, tiny gift-shops and restaurants rested on the steep slope. Out of every shop spilled countless trinkets, nik-naks, and daruma dolls. At the entrance to one shop, an old woman stood with her three cats swirling around her feet, chatting to a woman interested in buying one of her ‘lucky cat’ statues. The desire to browse was overwhelming, (mostly because all of the stuff was cat-related,) but I kept moving forward.
Finally the path opened into a small courtyard over which the statue stood, staring through the thin tree branches. Even from a distance I was entranced. I had never seen anything like it. I should stop here before I get too dreamy and point out that a few months later I drove my brother, Derek to come see the statue and the first words out of his mouth were, “Dude, what if it just suddenly started falling forward? I bet we wouldn’t even have time to get out of the way!” Yeah thanks for ruining that for me, bro.
Across from the statue was a large temple where people were going to throw in 5 yen coins to pray and wish for good fortune. I browsed through their souvenirs, took some pictures, and then finally made my way over to the giant lady. After I crossed the little red and white bridge from the shrine to her island I walked right up to her feet and stopped to look up. For the first time that day I didn’t reach for my camera, I didn’t pull out my notepad to jot down some clever description, I just stared and took in this amazing feat that people were able to accomplish 80 years ago.
I totally forgot about it the first day I went, but surprisingly, the statue is actually hollow so you can climb up to her head and look out across the surrounding countryside. The second time I went with Derek, we finally climbed the ridiculous amount of stairs (all while an annoying little fly in my ear was complaining about the height). At the top, little signs were attached to each window that said, “This way is Tokyo!” or, “This way is bla bla bla!” I took some pictures, Derek didn’t get too close to the windows, and then we went back down.
Anyways, back to the first day, after standing there staring at the statue like a total gaijin, (foreigner,) I snapped a few more pictures and then dropped by one of the little restaurants for some rice porridge. Once I finished, what do ya know, I stopped by the cat lady’s store, bought an antique sake cup from her, (which I usually use for coffee…I know, I’m a total heathen,) and then headed home.
P.S. You should have seen the look on everyone’s face back at work when I told them I actually went. It’s been almost a year… I wonder what they’ll stay when I finally go to Mt. Haruna. Hmm.