In 1243 a wooden Buddha, with a head girth of 78 feet was completed, and housed in its own hall. Four years later it was totally destroyed by a violent storm.
In 1252, thanks again to the fund-raising of Lady Inada and Priest Joko, inside a new large temple hall, the Kamakura Great Buddha was reborn, this time in a patchwork casting of eight bronze pieces, inside the same sand that had made the swords that rose with the bones they had created from and out of Schichirigahama beach. The handiwork quality of its two metal sculptors, Ono Goroemaon and Tanji Hisatomo, and the more than a dozen years it took them to finish, is a tribute to their constancy and quiet endurance. Even today's technology cannot determine precisely how it was cast and built. The original statue was gilt all over, and glittering. Time has worn it all off, except for traces of the original coloring in his ears... a legend told, A rusting bulk of bronze and gold, So much, and scarce so much, ye hold The meaning of Kamakura?
But you only lose what you cling to. In 1335, the temple was caught in another storm. The Kamakura shogunate had fallen two years earlier and the area was still a battlefield between Emperor Go-Daigo’s army and Hōjō troop remnants. When the typhoon hit, 500 Hōjō samurai sought refuge in the building. They were crushed to death, as the temple collapsed. In 1495, an earthquake and tsunami took out most of the newly erected temple. Once again, the statue was unharmed. Three years later, while Columbus was island-hopping the Caribbean, another mammoth tidal wave swept away the rest of the temple, leaving only foundation stones. But in Japan, there's nothing like that, since the temple is made of wood. The divine spirit inside the building is eternal, so the enclosure doesn't have to be.
The Ashikaga shogunate government of the time was in Kyoto, and gave no hand for reconstruction. The Great Buddha has since never been housed, sitting in the open air for over 700 years, weather-beaten, left to the elements and natural erosion and neglect. At one point it fell into disrepair to the point where the homeless and gamblers lived inside, making it their hideout. Saddened by the deteriorating condition, in 1712, a priest named Yuten Ken'yo at Zojoji Jodo temple in Tokyo, collected contributions, enough to refurbish the statue, but not enough to cover the construction cost of a new building.
‘Emerging from the nose
Of Great Buddha’s statue:
A swallow comes.’
Kobayashi Issa (1763-1828)