The historical Buddha was born as a prince named Siddhartha Gautama in the kingdom of the Shakyas in northern India. In Sanskrit he is therefore also called Shakyamuni ('sage of the Shakyas') and in Japanese, Shaka.
Shaka undertook six years of fasting and hardship as part of his search for the truth about existence and escape from suffering. As a result he became emaciated and according to tradition his skin turned black. This small gilded bronze statue with its layer of dull black lacquer vividly shows him in this state.
During the Edo period (AD 1600-1868) in Japan, not all Buddhist temples could afford large metal sculptures, but many small images were made. This example, signed Minamoto Masakatsu, has an inscription on its base saying that it was commissioned by Jōkaku, third abbot of the Mankōji temple at Kanazawa on the Japan Sea coast. The temple was consecrated on 15 February 1630, the day on which the death of the Buddha is commemorated.