Standing tall above the surrounding area is the Great Kannon, a towering fifty-meter statue housing the temple Daihonzan Shodoshima Daikannon Bushiji. This peaceful stone likeness of Kannon, known in English as the Goddess of Mercy, can be seen from all around the mountains over eastern Shodo Island. Perhaps more impressive than the size itself, was the incredible amount of donations that were received to raise the temple to such lofty heights. Further donations were given to build a maze of hallways under the statues base that contain hundreds of golden miniature replicas of the Great Kannon. The temple Bushiji is sister temple to a Sri Lankan temple of the same name.
Kannon, or Goddess of Mercy, is a widely popular Buddhist deity throughout East Asia. The kanji for Kannon (観音) can translate roughly to “watchful listening” and Kannon witnesses and listens to the cries of suffering. The Lotus Sutra describes Kannon as a bosatsu (bodhisattva) who can take any form in order to teach the Dharma. Originally portrayed as male, Kannon is now often portrayed as female.
For the lay person, Kannon is one of the most important and popular Buddhist deities. Worship of the Kannon crosses denominational lines. Kannon hears and sees the trials of mortal beings and so is called the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion. In many of the more common denominations of Japanese Buddhism (mainly the Pure Land Sects), Kannon breaks the karmic cycle of rebirth to allow followers to reach the Amida Buddha’s Pure Land. People have at times claimed that many popular historical and contemporary figures are reincarnations of the Kannon, such as Prince Shotoku, Daruma, and even the Dalai Lama. If you have seen a Buddhist statue of what appears to be a woman anywhere in Japan, there is a very big chance that you are seeing a statue of Kannon.
The Great Kannon of Shodo Island was completed in 1993 and has since become quite a local icon. The complete name for the Great Kannon is that of the temple, Daihonzan Shodoshima Daikannon Bushiji. This temple can be reached by taking the elevator from the base of the statue for a small fee. Inside, there are several areas for worship, as well as a relic of the Buddha. The statue looks out serenely from its mountainous surroundings and has become one of its most recognized landmarks.