FUJISAWA, Kanagawa Prefecture – A sculptor has nearly completed a nearly 10-meter-tall wooden statue of the Virgin Mary he started carving 40 years ago to pray for the souls of thousands of people killed in Kyushu In the 17th century.
Eiji Oyamatsu, 88, who has a workshop in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, works on the statue alone and uses his own money.
Volunteers from Minami-Shimabara in Nagasaki Prefecture were so touched by Oyamatsu’s enthusiasm that they decided to build a dedicated facility for the statue and plan to begin housing it in late June.
“It seems fateful that I undertake this work without being commissioned by anyone, and the statue will now be housed in a place that deserves it most,” said the sculptor.
The Shimabara Rebellion swept through large areas of what are now Nagasaki and Kumamoto prefectures in 1637-1638.
Christians and farmers locked themselves in the castle of Hara to face the troops sent by the Tokugawa shogunate. More than 30,000 rebels were killed there, according to estimates.
The remains of Hara Castle are located in Minami-Shimabara.
Oyamatsu is from Sado, Niigata Prefecture.
After graduating from high school, he studied with Shodo Sasaki (1882-1961), a lost-wax casting artist and government-appointed “living human treasure”, also from Sado.
Oyamatsu then trained as a home apprentice with woodcarver Choshu Hashimoto (1899-1960) and moved his base to Fujisawa in the 1970s.
He won the first “Premier’s Prize” at the Japan Fine Art Exhibition (Nitten) in 2011.
A POPE’S BLESSING
The sculptor, a Roman Catholic, had visited the remains of Hara Castle around 1971 and was struck by the lack of memorials or other similar facilities at the site.
He decided to make the gigantic statue of the Virgin Mary a memorial in 1981, when John Paul II became the first pope to visit Japan, with Nagasaki included in his itinerary.
Oyamatsu first created a “Madonna and Child” statue 50 centimeters high, showing Saint Mary with Jesus Christ in her arms.
He sent the statue to the pope, along with a letter containing the sculptor’s feelings and thoughts.
Oyamatsu later received a response, saying that the Pope blessed his life and work. The Pope’s blessing provided enormous moral support.
Oyamatsu proceeded to create progressively larger images measuring 2.5 meters and 6 meters tall until he set to work on the current statue measuring 9.5 meters tall.
Its base alone measures 3 meters high and 2.5 meters wide.
A tree of this size is hard to find, so Oyamatsu made the statue in the style of a log house, interlocking round slices of camphor tree.
After completing his regular work for the day, he often chisels Madonna statues, even at the cost of sleep.
He also insists on working solo on the project, and he has declined any offers of help or funding.
“I want to see how far I can go with my own abilities,” Oyamatsu said. “A climber wouldn’t have much fun if he took a helicopter to the top, would he?”
His work on the statue of the Virgin Mary became known to the people of Minami-Shimabara.
SITE PREPARED IN NAGASAKI PREFECTURE
In 2015, Oyamatsu decided to donate the statue to the Minami-Shimabara city government, but some citizens opposed the plan, saying it went against the separation of religion and politics. .
With the future of the statue unclear, the volunteer group in 2020 established the Minami-Shimabara World Heritage Citizens Association, an incorporated general association, and solicited donations to reactivate the plan. .
“We were deeply touched by the sincere feelings of the artist,” said an official from the association’s secretariat. “And the more you look, the more you realize that this is wonderful work. We want to welcome the statue here at Minami-Shimabara at all costs. »
The total cost of transportation and installation is estimated at around 100 million yen ($770,000).
Construction of a main tower to house the statue of the Virgin Mary began in April on a hillock with some 30 million yen that had been donated so far. The tower is expected to be completed by the end of June.
The site offers stunning views of the remains of Hara Castle, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2018, and the Amakusa Islands across a strait, which were also embroiled in the Shimabara Rebellion.
Oyamatsu named his statue “St. Mary Kannon of Hara Castle.”
The name contains a reference to Maria Kannon, or images of the Virgin Mary in the guise of the Kannon deity of Buddhism, which Christians hidden in the region worshiped when Christianity was banned in Japan from the 17th to the 19th century.
Oyamatsu will enter the consecration site when his statue is brought there. He will then assemble the parts, take the anti-seismic measures and provide the finishing touches, including coloring. The work should last about three months.
“I’m always nervous because some pieces may not fit when actually assembled on site,” the sculptor said. “Far from feeling relieved that the hardest part of the job is over, my stomach tingles.
The statue is expected to be on public display in the spring of next year.