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Amida beyond the Mountains (Yamagoshi Amida)

Unknown13th Century

Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum

Yamagoshi Amida, or Amitābha beyond the Mountains, refers to paintings of the Buddha Amida appearing from the other side of the mountains to welcome devotees on their deathbed. This characteristically Japanese theme may have originally been based on the esoteric Buddhist practice of contemplating on the moon, imposed with the image of the Buddha’s enlightened countenance. For this reason, the prototype for such paintings often has a strong frontal composition. This hanging scroll, however, can be characterized by the pictorial depiction of the scenery and captures Amida and his retinue appearing diagonally from between the mountains as if they are about to welcome the devotee.
Although it is not altogether clear whether to read the title yamagoe (coming over the mountains) or yamagoshi (beyond the mountains), the ancient Japanese view of the next world lying beyond the mountains influenced the development of this theme, hence, the reading yamagoshi seems to more befitting. In other words, yamagoshi can be understood as Amida waiting to receive the spirit of the deceased who heads to the other world beyond the mountains. If the title is interpreted as such, the way the painting is expressed here somewhat diminishes its original meaning.
Although the restoration of this hanging scroll has been skillfully executed, the loss of silk around Amida’s chest and right palm suggests that the traditional five-colored strings, connecting Amida to the dying devotee, were originally attached to the painting, which was likely to have been actually hung near the deathbed of the devotee who held the strings at the other end in the final moments of life. The co-founder of the newspaper company The Asahi Shimbun, Ueno Riichi (1848–1919) , which was renowned since the pre-war Japan.

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