This folding screen, which originally belonged to Tō-ji, the renowned monastery of the Shingon sect, was used in the esoteric Buddhist initiation ritual, kanjō. Formerly used by courtiers as decorative interior furnishings, such screens were converted for ritual use to provide a dignified ambience in this Buddhist ceremony. As the initiation ritual became popularly observed in the twelfth century, the form of the ceremony as well as the motifs of the screens gradually came to be formalized. The painting here, thought to date to the latter half of the eleventh century, is the oldest extant screen of this type and exemplifies an interior furnishing from the period of imperial rule in Japan.
Although the theme is unclear, the motif is of Chinese origin, making the work a Chinesestyle painting (kara-e in Japanese). The depicted style also comes from China, from the Tang dynasty, though the work here lacks the severity of Chinese paintings. According to Masakane Kyō ki, the journal of Lord Fujiwara no Masakane (1079–1143), the late-ninth-century court painter Kanaoka of the Kose school painted as many as fifteen mountains, while the early eleventh-century artist Hirotaka depicted five or six, indicating that rendering mountains repetitively in a single scene no longer prevailed in Hirotaka’s time. The present painting can be understood to follow this latter trend. The refined, gentle style here reflects the “Japanese cultural” nature of this work.