In Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan, the re-creation of the deity’s domicile and belongings is believed to impart new life energy to the deity, so the rebuilding and rededicating of the sacred shrines and treasures take place in periodic cycles. At the Asuka Shrine, the former tutelary shrine of the Kumano Hayatama Shrine of the Three Kumano Shrines, the custom of renewing the sacred treasures takes place once every thirty-three years.
According to the shrines, the sacred treasures from Asuka Shrine, now at Kyoto National Museum, along with the sacred treasures of Kumano Hayatama Shrine (stored there), were donated in 1390 (Meitoku 1) by powerful men of the time on the orders of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358–1408) and consist of boxes, furnishings, and court clothing. These, including other pieces probably added in later centuries, occupy a most important place in the history of medieval functional arts as they provide rare source material due to the verifiable time and background of their production.
The sacred treasures of Asuka Shrine form a set for a male deity. The courtier’s cloak ( J. hō), shown here, can be categorized as a courtier’s round-collared nōshi-style robe, which has been tailored to larger than human proportions. Although no actual court costumes remain from the medieval period, through these sacred shrine treasures we can gather some knowledge of what they must have actually looked like.