The giant, gently sloping hill at the center of Makomanai Takino Cemetery in Sapporo, Japan is dotted not with tombstones but with lavender plants — 150,000 of them, growing in neat, concentric circles. This is no ordinary hill, but a monumental work of environmental architecture designed by Tadao Ando to enclose a hulking Buddha, which sits half-buried at its center, with its downcast head poking out from a hole.
Ando completed the so-named Hill of the Buddha in December 2015, and it’s now the mesmerizing centerpiece of the 35-year-old cemetery. Discussing his vision in an article for Domus magazine last October, the Japanese architect said, “The aim of this project was to build a prayer hall that would enhance the attractiveness of a stone Buddha sculpted 15 years ago … Until now, the Buddha statue has stood alone in the field, giving an unrestful impression. The client wanted to give visitors a more serene appreciation of the Buddha.”
Just over 44 feet tall and weighing 1,500 tons, the stone Buddha now sits crosslegged on stairs in a rotunda that visitors can reach through a long, sculpted tunnel. The concrete interior space is womblike, presenting a quiet, secluded space for personal contemplation in the middle of the cemetery. From a bird’s eye view, the Buddha’s presence seems bold and dynamic, but the view is much subtler and more mysterious from the ground. Standing at the bottom of the hill, one will just see the Buddha’s ushnisha emerging as a gleaming protrusion amid the field of lavender — which will be a sea of purple and green, during the summer, and a sprinkle of white dots if you catch it after a fresh snowfall.
Ando’s hill presents another great reason to visit the Sapporo cemetery, which already featured a very curious selection of structures. Standing in a row at one edge of the site is a group of reproductions of Easter Island moai, erected as forever witnesses of your existence on this earth, according to the cemetery’s website; another plot of land hosts a replica of Stonehenge, which is meant to represent a sacred space that connects the earth to the sky.
As for burial sites, the cemetery is home to over 45,000 traditional tombstones, a tree burial garden, and a mausoleum.