On the final leg of our trip last week (Fukuoka to Miyazaki), we passed through Kurume in Fukuoka Prefecture. We were tired and didn't really have any time for sight-seeing because we had to pick up the dog when we got back to Miyazaki. My wife was driving and I was basically zoning out in the back seat when something caught my eye and got me to yelling for my wife to stop the car, now! This is what I saw:
My wife muttered a kind of "oh yeah... I forgot about that," in Japanese (she'd briefly lived in Kurume a long time ago) and, as I mentioned, we didn't have time for a real visit, but I did jump out of the car long enough to get these pics.
I later found out that the statue in the above pics is, at 62 meters, among the tallest in the world. It's of a type of Buddhist artwork generally known as Kannon (personifying compassion), and more specifically Jibo Kannon ("compassionate mother"). Apparently Kannon is generally considered male among Buddhists in India, Tibet and Southeast Asia, but feminized forms became somewhat common in China and Japan from the 11th-12th centuries. In Japan, the feminine form makes Kannon more compatible with Shinto, in which reverence for the female element has a long history.
There's also an interesting side note to this. The image of the "compassionate mother" and her baby also has a long tradition in Christian iconography. In Japan, during the Tokugawa (Edo) Period (1603-1868), there was a ban on/persecution of Christianity. During this period hidden Christians began disguising statues of the Virgin Mary as Kannon. These became known as Maria Kannon. [There's more info at the links. Dig in!]
Anyway, the next time I go to Costco in Fukuoka, I'll try to make a side-trip and see if I can get some better pictures of this statue. After all, there's more to life than just buying stuff...