Let’s head south from Tokyo to visit the Takatoriyama magaibutsu.

There are temples all over Japan, and in just about all of them you’ll find some sort of Buddhist sculpture or painting. What are much rarer, though, are magaibutsu, or giant Buddhist images carved into mountain rock walls.

However, we recently heard about a magaibutsu on a mountaintop not far from Tokyo, and so we went to see it for ourselves.

The carving is located in the town of Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, about 45 minutes south of downtown Tokyo. Getting off the train at Keikyu Oppama Station, we made our way to Takatoriyama Park, where a sign labeled magaibutsu (磨崖仏) pointed us in the way of the statue.

The “yama” part of Takatoriyama means “mountain,” but with the elevation at the peak being just 139 meters (456 feet), experienced alpinists might scoff at the name as an exaggeration. The path gets very steep in parts, though, and it’s not a straight shot to the top either, as it rises and falls repeatedly as it winds its way towards the peak.

▼ Don’t worry, though. The path goes around this wall, not over it.

As you leave the sounds and crowds of the lower parts of the park behind and below, the paved path intermittently gives way to soil and grass.

While the hiking course isn’t treacherous, it’s a comprehensive workout for the legs, as it continues to undulate on its eventual ascent.

After about 10 minutes, we came to a bend in the trail…

…and once we came around it, we saw what we’d come for: the magaibutsu.

Looming above us and framed by lush greenery was a carved statue of bodhisattva Miroku Bosatsu, also known as Maitreya. The eight-meter (26.2-foot) tall carving shows influences from the Gandhara art style that mixes Asian and western aesthetics, and Miroku Bosatsu’s kind and serene expression had a calming effect on us as we gazed up at it.

As we mentioned earlier, these kinds of statues aren’t particularly common in Japan, and many of the ones that do exist were made in the late Heian period (which ended in 1185) or Kamakura period (1185-1333). Standing there in the clearing alone with the magaibutsu, it did feel like we’d discovered an ancient artifact, but it turns out that the statue is remarkably new, having been created by a local artisan in 1965, who spent a full year carving it.

But what it lacks in physical age, it makes up for in significance as a symbol that Japan’s present is still connected to its past, and we’re glad we took the time to visit one of the country’s newest magaibutsu.

Park information
Takatoriyma Park / 鷹取山公園
Address: Kanagawa-ken, Yokosuka-shi, Shonan Takatori 3-3-520

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