Ando Tadao’s Hill of Buddha

unless otherwise noted, all photographs by Shigeo Ogawa

Normally a cemetery wouldn’t be on our list of recommended sites to see, but the Makomanai Cemetery is one of the most awe-inspiring places we’ve ever been. Located in the outskirts of Sapporo, a large stone Buddha occupies the sprawling landscape. All 1500 tons of it has sat alone there for 15 years. But when the cemetery decided they wanted to do something to increase visitor’s appreciations for the Buddha, they enlisted architect Tadao Ando, who had a grand and bold idea: hide the statue.

photo by Hiroo Namiki

We included Hill of Buddha in our Hokkaido Guide published last year.

“Our idea was to cover the Buddha below the head with a hill of lavender plants,” said Ando. Indeed, as you approach “Hill of Buddha” the subject is largely concealed by a hill planted with 150,000 lavenders. Only the top of the statue’s head pokes out from the rotunda, creating a visual connection between the lavender plants and the ringlets of hair on the Buddha statue’s head.

Upon entering, visitors are forced to turn left or right and walk around a rectangular lake of water before entering the 131-ft (40-meter) long approach tunnel. The journey is a constant reminder of the weather, the breeze and the light, and is works in tandem to heighten anticipation of the statue, which is only visible once you reach the end of the tunnel.

Any time of the year, visitors will have a different experience. The 150,000 lavenders “turn fresh green in spring, pale purple in summer and silky white with snow in winter.” It really is a miraculous work of environmental art.

photo by Hiroo Namiki

The Makomanai Cemetery is a little difficult to get to, but well worth the effort. If you have a car it’s about a 30-min drive from central Sapporo. You can also take a subway from Sapporo Station to Makomanai Station and then board the #2 or #3 bus.

photo by Hiroo Namiki

5 Comments

  1. Very impressive! One day I would really like to go and see this.

  2. Thank you, as always, for bringing us inspiring places to discover online and to visit someday. Tadao Ando’s architecture surrounding the Buddha reminded me in a very small way of the main temple at Angkor Wat in that the water, the pathway and tunnel design can take people deeper into their own spiritual world. One is ancient, one is modern, but perhaps with a slightly similar experience awaiting us. And thanks, also, for the translation of Tadao Ando’s comments. Much appreciated! alice

  3. Ahhh! Thank you for this post. Ando Tadao is on my ‘pilgrimage’ list… there are certain locations associated with art, literature, events, that I will go out of my way to visit should I find myself in their vicinity wherever I travel. There is a magnificent jewel of a gallery within the Art Institute of Chicago (where I live) – that was designed by Ando. It is a surprisingly spiritual space that I discovered quite by accident, and that became a regular refuge for me during the years that I worked nearby. Unfortunately, the museum chose to alter the design by removing the door to the gallery, exposing the formerly contained space to the busy light and sound from the rooms surrounding it and although still a stunning space, it no longer conveys the sense of total timelessness and peace that it did before the alteration. In my experience, Ando is a master of conveying a sense of the limitless eternal by the way he contains a space. Seems like a contradiction in terms, until you experience it.
    We also have the Eychener Lee House, past which I make it a point to walk at least once or twice a year. I look forward to visiting Naoshima Island in the future.

  4. Junichi Onodera

    August 28, 2017 at 5:33 am

    As beautiful and impressive this site designed by Ando is, you should definetly report on the cemetary itself.
    When you see all the beautiful photographs of the hill of the buddha, you expect it to be more a single landmark in outback nature. Of course it is known that it is part of a cemetary, but that cemetary is somoe kiond of a spiritual disneyland, of wich Tadao Andos beautiful structure is part of.
    To the right side of the hill there are huge fake Moai-heads lined up, and before you reach the hill you pass various buddha statues (not old vintage ones but vintage-trimmed chinese made concrete buddhas) and a ridiculously fake stonehenge. so although the hill of the buddha has a spiritual strength, its surrounding is quite comical, and you get a bit disappointed even before you get to the statue itself.
    If we had know before we took the quite far drive from sapporo, we wouldnt have been that negatively surprised about the surrounding.

    • Indeed, you are correct. When we visited last summer we saw the replica Moai statues and Stonehenge (which was still under construction) and were quite taken aback. However, we found it was quite possible to focus only on Ando’s beautiful monument and ignore the other bizarre structures, which is why we did not mention them in the article.

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