Workers at the Houkokuji Aizu Betsuin temple in Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture scaled the 57-meter statue of Kannon Bodhisattva on Tuesday to place a custom-made mask over her face. The act, according to reports, was intended as a prayer to help end the coronavirus pandemic.
Kannon or Guanyin (Skt: Avalokiteshvara) is also known as the Goddess of Mercy and represents the perfection of compassion across Buddhist cultures.
Four workers spent three hours hoisting the mask—measuring 4.1 meters by 5.3 meters and weighing 35 kilograms—up to the face of the bodhisattva on ropes. The temple’s manager, Takaomi Horigane, said that workers came up with the idea to give the statue a face mask as they planned a restoration program after damage from an earthquake in February this year.
The temple plans to keep the mask on the statue until COVID-19 is fully under control in Japan. According to World Health Organization (WHO) data, Japan has recorded 779,338 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 14,269 deaths. Japan, which was largely successful early in the pandemic, reported most of its cases in two large waves, one peaking in early January 2021, and the other peaking in May of this year.
As of 6 June, 15,6 million vaccine doses have been administered in Japan. For many, this is a cause of great concern as plans are still underway to host the Summer Olympics, which are due to begin on 23 July. The sporting events are expected to draw thousands of athletes, coaches, and support crews from around the world.
Ryuji Wakita, head of a government COVID-19 advisory board and director-general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, said that even as more people are receiving the jabs and most of the country’s 36 million senior citizens are expected to be fully inoculated by the end of July, younger people are largely unvaccinated and infections among them could quickly burden hospitals. “In order to prevent another upsurge, it is crucial to prevent the people from roaming around during the Olympics and summer vacation,” Wakita said. (Associated Press)
The statue at the temple Houkoku-ji Aizu Betsuin was built 33 years ago and depicts the goddess holding a baby. The sculpture serves as a place for people to pray for the safe delivery of children and for the welfare of newborns. She stands on a large lotus-blossom platform, which visitors can enter. Those who visit the statue can climb an internal staircase up to Kannon’s shoulder, where they can view the surrounding landscape from windows at a height of more than 40 meters.
Given the long history of depictions of Kannon, there are a wide variety of iconographies. Most common are the “thousand-armed” Guanyin, in which the many arms represent the bodhisattva’s vow to save all beings; and depictions of Guanyin carrying a vase of water to relieve suffering and either a wish-fulfilling gem or a lotus blossom, symbolizing purity arising from the mud of samsara.
Giant Buddhist goddess in Japan gets face mask to pray for end of COVID-19 (Reuters)
Japan COVID-19 Data (World Health Organization)
Japan announces easing of virus emergency ahead of Olympics (Associated Press)
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