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Outer Sutra Containers


Kyoto National Museum

Kyoto National Museum

A kyōzuka was a small sutra mound intended to preserve the Lotus Sutra and other Buddhist scriptures on into the far-distant future until the coming of the bodhisattva Maitreya ( J. Miroku) as the Buddha of the Future. Such mounds proliferated in the late twelfth century, toward the end of the Heian period. Bronze tubes that held the
sutras are known as kyōzutsu, or sutra containers, and were often placed inside earthenware jars or pots. This outer sutra container is tubular, of low-fire earthenware, and holds a bronze sutra container. It is distinctive for its hollow relief carvings of four Buddhist guardians offering an invaluable example of Buddhist iconography. Between the figures of the deities are four inscriptions, also in hollow relief carving: “Ki no takekuni,” “Fujiwara uji no me” (A woman of the Fujiwara clan), “Ninpei 3,” “Ninth month twenty-third day.” Ninpei 3 corresponds to 1153, the year that Taira no Kiyomori (1118–1181) became head of the Taira clan. This case was presumably unearthed from a sutra mound in the vicinity of ancient Kyoto. The Genpei War, a bitter conflict between the Taira and Minamoto clans, lay just ahead, and apprehension over the state of the world is thought to have underlain the construction of sutra mounds during this time.

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  • Title: Outer Sutra Containers
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date: 1153
  • Type: clay


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