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Origin of Onsen-ji Temple (Onsenji Engi)

Unknown15th Century

Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum

Illustrated here are the origin and miracles associated with Onsen-ji Temple, located in the Arima hot springs area in Settsu province (now in Hyogo prefecture), which the poetess Sei Shōnagon (c. 966–1025) mentions in The Pillow Book as a celebrated hot springs since ancient times. The bottom level depicts the legend of Onsen-ji’s founding priest Gyōki (668–749) overseeing the construction of the temple. Above this appears scenes of Priest Son’e of Kiyoshikōjin Seicho-ji Temple who returned from the underworld, starting at the lower right and moving visually upward in a zigzag to Son’e reading the Lotus Sutra at the palace of King Enma (Skt. Yama), the judge of the dead (on the left, slightly above the center of the scroll).
This painting with its vibrant colors and lively figures appears to have been made in the first half of the fifteenth century to be used for etoki, or pictorial storytelling, by etoki priests at Onsen-ji Temple who, according to fifteenthcentury records, received a fee from those who went to bathe in the restorative waters of Arima. This hanging scroll originally belonged to the temple, however, it appears that the work was taken from the temple when it fell into decline in the sixteenth century. The inscription written on its box reveals that the painting had belonged to Kangaku-in, a subtemple of Mii-dera Temple in Shiga prefecture, in 1743 (Kanpō 3). Later, the painting went to Saishō-in, a subtemple of Byōdō-in Temple in Uji, before it entered the Kyoto National Museum collection.

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