Motomachi Stone Buddha: A stone carving that has stood the test of time

Designated as a national historic site by the Japanese government in 1934, the Motomachi Stone Buddha is a stone carving on a cliffside in a quiet part of Oita City that has stood the test of time.

Between hot springs soaks and delicious toriten (tempura fried chicken), hallmarks of a great trip to Oita, make some time to venture out to this secluded treasure.

The Jocho School

Motomachi Stone Buddha

Photo by: PIXTA/ marumaru The statue exemplifies key characteristics of the Jocho School of Japanese sculpture

The Motomachi Buddha exemplifies the key characteristics of the Jocho School of Japanese sculpture which developed out of the work of a sculptor of the same name. Working in Nara in the first half of the eleventh century, Jocho created some of the most well-renowned Buddhist carvings in Japan, including Amitabha in Nara’s Byodo-in Temple. His innovative techniques and style which include simplistic poses, gentle demeanor, round face and naturally flowing robes were passed down by his descendants and came to dominate sculpting in the Kamakura period (1192-1333).

The Statue

Motomachi Stone Buddha

Photo by: PIXTA/ 東奔西走 Carved in the likeness of Yakushi Nyorai, also known as the Medicine Buddha

Measuring just over five meters tall, this stone Buddha was constructed in the second half of the eleventh century and is part of a larger collection of nearby carvings housed in Iwaya-ji and Kongohokai-ji Temples. The Motomachi Buddha is carved in the likeness of Yakushi Nyorai, also known as the Medicine Buddha. Soon after the introduction of Buddhism to Japan via China in the 6th century, the worship of Yakushi Nyorai began among the Japanese elite but eventually spread to the masses.

In the centuries preceding the completion of the Motomachi Buddha, the Medicine Buddha’s popularity was expanded and depictions of it exploded throughout the country during the Heian period (794-1185). Like other Yakushi Nyorai, this one in Oita is flanked by other deities, including Fudo Myoo, a powerful warrior king charged with protecting Buddhist law. While the Buddha is in relatively good condition considering its age, the other carvings on either side have not fared as well over the last millennium.

Motomachi Historical Walk

Motomachi Stone Buddha

Photo by: PIXTA/ 東奔西走 Take a walk.

The Motomachi Stone Buddha is one attraction on a historical walking tour that takes about two and a half hours to complete. The Ueno-Motomachi area was once the central part of the old Bungo Province and today contains several ruins and historical artifacts. Starting from the Oita City Art Museum and finishing at JR Oita station, walkers will also visit Yasaka Shrine, built by the head of the prestigious Otomo family, and Kongohokaiji Temple which was founded in the 8th century.


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