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3D printed parts for a Buddhist statue.

3D printed parts for a Buddhist statue.

One of the major religions in Japan is Buddhism, a religion that differs quite a bit from what most of us in the Western World believe. While they don’t exactly worship a god, there is one figure who Buddhists look up to for “enlightenment”, and that is Gautama Buddha. Gautama Buddha, who is most frequently referred to as just simply “Buddha”, has a presence in most Buddhist temples in the form of a statue. Most of these statues, however, are extremely old and valuable, and as with anything of value, theft tends to occur. In fact, between 2007 and 2009 there had been 105 reported thefts of statues in Japan, most of these occurring in sparsely populated, low population areas of the country. This has led various groups around Japan to begin using 3D printing technology in order to create replicas of their Buddhist statues.

A 3D printed buddhist statue created by Japanese Students for a local temple

A 3D printed buddhist statue created by Japanese Students for a local temple

One example was a group of students from the Prefectural Wakayama Technical High School, who used 3D scanners to create a virtual copy an Aizen Myoo statue which measured 51cm in height. It took 6 months for them to complete the model, before they set out to make a 3D printed replica of it. This has allowed the original to be moved into a secure location while the copy, which is made of plastic, has replaced the original in the temple. This removes the fears of theft, as the original is now in a very safe place. At the same time, the museum also has a 3D printed copy on display so that the visually impaired can touch and feel the statue. Previously this was not possible, as the original had been enshrined in glass, meaning no one was able to lay their hands on it.

buddha4The students at the Wakayama Technical High School have been encouraging other temples around Japan to do the same as they did, and virtually create “backups” of their valuable Buddhist statues. Many temples have begun taking this advice.

In Jiangjin City, which is located in Shimane, Japan, a large 90cm tall statue of Amitabha Tathagata has stood for years. The statue is sculpted in accordance with the Kamakura period. The abbot of the temple was concerned about possible theft, so he took the valuable statue to a nearby museum, and after learning about 3D printing technology, he elected to also have a copy made of the original.

“There really is no other way to be able to permanently guard the statue (Buddha),” said the temple’s abbot. “With this 3D printed replica, as long as it is enshrined in the temple, people can feel at ease.”

Buddhist statue created by this temple's abbot

Buddhist statue created by this temple’s abbot

Temple goers now have the ability to look up to the statue for guidance, without the worry that someone will end up stealing something extremely valuable to their temple and their religion in general.

It should be interesting to see if other Buddhist Temples in Japan and around the world begin following this model put forth by these students and this abbot in Japan. What do you think? Is this the solution to protecting cultural and religious heritage? Discuss in the 3D Printed Buddhist Statues forum thread on 3DPB.com. Check out the video below (in Japanese).

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