Images of Buddha and Kami

Amida beyond the Mountains (Yamagoshi Amida) (13th Century) by UnknownKyoto National Museum

Images of Buddha and Kami

Buddhism originated in India and was introduced into Japan through China. In Japan, Buddhism became increasingly fused with indigenous kami (deities) worship, developing into a unique belief system. The array of Buddhist figures and representations of kami in the Kyoto National Museum’s collection, originating in many parts of Asia and Japan, offers a geographical and chronological survey of these objects of worship.

Head of Buddha (2-3th Century) by UnknownKyoto National Museum

Head of Buddha
2-3th Century

This sculpture was produced in Gandhara (modernday Peshawar area) in Pakistan, which, along with Mathura in India, is famous as the birthplace of Buddhist sculpture. In contrast to the Indian-style visage and body of Mathuran Buddhist images, Gandharan sculpture shows Hellenistic influence with its deeply carved faces like those of Greek sculpture and drapery that appears to be thick.

Buddhism had been practiced in Gandhara since ancient times, but Buddhist sculpture was produced only after immigrants familiar with Greek culture came to this region, beginning some time in the first and second century C.E. (conflicting theories and ongoing debates surround the exact dating) and continuing until the fifth century C.E.

Although only the head remains from this sculpture, it was carved from high-quality stone. The eyes and nose are well articulated, and the lines of the hair are carefully delineated. This is likely an example of high Gandharan sculpture produced between the latter half of the second and early third century. Gandharan Buddha images of this period do not have the deeply twisted spiral “snail-shell” curls of hair that is seen on Japanese Buddha images; rather the hair is rendered in this wave-like manner.

Standing Buddha (4th Century) by UnknownKyoto National Museum

Standing Buddha
4th Century

Although Buddhism was brought to China by at least the first century B.C.E. during the early part of the Late (Eastern) Han dynasty, it was not widely practiced at first. The only known remains of Buddhist sculpture that date back that far appears in such contexts as in bronze “money trees” or tomb walls. From the fifth century onward, Buddhist teachings spread and Buddhist image production flourished under the Northern and Southern dynasties. However, there are several confirmed gilt bronze Buddha statues depicted in older styles that are thought to have been produced even earlier, during the fourth century under the Eastern Jin or Sixteen Dynasties period.

Known as old-style gilt bronze Buddhas, many are seated, but this unusual image depicts a standing Buddha. The lotus flower-topped base was made separately from the figure, which is inserted into the stand, but the image is currently so tightly inserted into the base that the two cannot be separated. There is a discernable inscription on the side of the base reading in Chinese characters, “nine figures produced.” Strong similarities to Gandharan-style statuary include the hair arrangement on top of the head with strands depicted by incised lines (rather than snail-shell curls), the clear, expressive eyes, and rather thick mustache. The way in which the robe is draped upon the body (with both shoulders covered) is also Indian in style. These features indicate that this statue could have been produced as early as the fourth century.

However, recent research has revealed that among Indian or Gandharan-style images, there were some more recent statues produced from the Northern and Southern Dynasties onward that were based upon the older styles. If this type of research progresses, it may be necessary to reassess production dates.

Amitābha Triad in Miniature Shrine (659) by UnknownKyoto National Museum

Amitābha Triad in Miniature Shrine
659 AD

In China, Buddhism began to flourish from the Northern and Southern dynasties onward, and during the Tang dynasty it came to be even more widely practiced, stimulating the production of many Buddhist images. During the Northern and Southern dynasties, Buddhist imagery became more Sinicized, meaning that the facial features and garments began to look more like those of the Han Chinese, even though China and India continued to have a lively exchange. Chinese monks such as Xuanzang (602–664) and Yiching (635–713) traveled to India in search of Buddhist teachings, and many monks visited from India and the western regions of China. Due to the impact of such exchanges, Chinese Buddhist imagery took on the naturalism of Indian Gupta and post-Gupta period sculpture.

According to the inscription written on the front and right sides of this miniature shrine, the sculpture was produced in 659 (Xianqing 4) and depicts an Amitābha (Ch. Amituo, J. Amida) triad. Amitābha typically appears with his hands in the meditation mudra with the thumb and fingers touching or in the welcoming mudra performed when receiving devotees on their deathbeds.

The central Amitābha image in this triad, however, is depicted with the left hand touching the ground in the earth-touching mudra. This mudra derives from a gesture Śakyamuni Buddha made in order to repel demons when he was attempting to attain enlightenment. The mudra on this image is notable in that it indicates that the mudras of Amitābha had not yet been standardized at the time of this sculpture’s production.

Seated Amida Nyorai (Amitabha Buddha) (11th Century) by UnknownKyoto National Museum

Seated Amida Nyorai (Amitabha Buddha)
11th Century

As Pure Land belief became popular in the late Heian period, people began to pray fervently for birth in the Pure Land of Amida (Skt. Amitābha). As a result, large quantities of Amida images were created to enable people to sense Amida’s paradise in the present world. Within this environment, wooden sculptures made by the celebrated sculptor Jōchō (d. 1057), active from the early to mid-eleventh century, were enthusiastically lauded by nobles of the time as the true images of Buddha. Such sculptures were called Jōchō-style images and predominated for the subsequent one hundred years.

This statue was also rendered in the Jōchōstyle, but the technique in which it was produced with pieces of relatively large wood fit together is older. In addition, the relaxed physique that does not show signs of a standardized form is similar to the sculptural style of Jōchō’s disciple Chōsei, making it possible that this was created as early as the late eleventh century.

This sculpture was formerly housed at Yakurenji, the temple affiliated with Sakuri Shrine in Kyoto’s Kumiyama-chō district. However, during the Buddhist and Shinto separatist movement in the Meiji period, it was moved to Sairin-ji Temple, also in Kumiyama-chō. In 1961, Typhoon Nancy severely damaged Sairin-ji Temple and the sculpture as well. It has fortunately been restored to nearly its original condition and is now safely stored at the Kyoto National Museum.

Sakyamuni Rising from the Golden Coffin (11th Century) by UnknownKyoto National Museum

Sakyamuni Rising from the Golden Coffin
11th Century

This painting captures the scene of Śākyamuni Buddha, who had entered his great passing, resurrecting himself from his coffin to offer his final sermon to his mother Maya, who was overwrought with grief having arrived too late to see her son before his death. This unusual motif, which resembles the resurrection of Christ, comes from the Great Māya Sutra (Ch. Mohe Moye jing, J. Maka Maya kyō), a Chinese apocrypha. The thematic emphasis on Śākyamuni’s filial piety suggests that its Buddhist compilers intended to use this sutra to avoid criticism from their Confucianist rivals.

Although the present work is dated to around the latter half of the eleventh century, some scholars attribute the original painting to tenthcentury China. This work may have been a reproduction of a Chinese original made in Japan to revive interest in Chinese paintings, which had been imported to Japan in the past. In brief, Japan experienced a renewed admiration for China initiated by Emperor Shirakawa (1053–1129) around the beginning of his cloistered rule in the late eleventh century. While the vivid composition of the lively crowd and the expressive thick and thin black lines are reminiscent of Chinese works, the vibrant color scheme strongly reflects the Japanese aesthetics of the time.

This large hanging scroll originally belonged to Chōhō-ji Temple in the western part of Kyoto (now the city of Nagaokakyō). After the Pacific War, however, Matsunaga Yasuzaemon (pseudonym Jian; 1875–1971), who was called the last great chajin (tea aficionado), came to own this work. After Matsunaga’s death, with the dissolution of the Matsunaga Memorial Hall in 1979, the Matsunaga Foundation presented the painting to the Japanese government.

Outer Sutra Containers (1153) by UnknownKyoto National Museum

Outer Sutra Containers

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.

Thousand-armed Kannon in Incense Container-shaped Shrine (12th Century) by UnknownKyoto National Museum

Thousand-armed Kannon in Incense Container-shaped Shrine
12th Century

This is a round portable Buddha shrine made with flush-fitting the body and lid in the inrōbuta style. The shape of such shrines resembles incense containers and so they are often called ‘incense container Buddhas.’ Shrines like these may have been carried by traveling monks who used them in worship. Both the body and lid were carved from sandalwood, and so originally must have exuded a pleasant fragrance when opened.

A sculpted seated image of a thousand-armed Kannon (Skt. Sahasrabhuja-arya-avalokiteśvara) appears inside the shrine. It does not actually have one thousand arms but expresses the concept of one thousand by the presence of two ‘true’ hands pressed together in front of the chest and forty subsidiary arms. The lid features high-relief images of a flute and shō (wind instrument resembling panpipes) on the upper portion, an incense burner atop clouds set in the center, and the female deity Kudokuten (Skt. Laksmī) and the aged Basūsen (Skt. Vasu) to the left and right. Kudokuten is also called Kisshōten or Benzaiten, while iconographically Basūsen is an immortal likely originating from the deity Shiva and is depicted as an ascetic practitioner. Originally an Indian deity, Shiva was incorporated into Buddhism as a protective deity and here symbolizes Kannon’s compassion.

The gentle style of this shrine is a characteristic of the late Heian period, but the ease of the Kannon’s pose elicits the naturalism of the Kamakura period. It was likely produced during the transition between these two periods in the late twelfth century.

Amida beyond the Mountains (Yamagoshi Amida) (13th Century) by UnknownKyoto National Museum

Amida beyond the Mountains (Yamagoshi Amida)
13th Century

Yamagoshi Amida, or Amitābha beyond the Mountains, refers to paintings of the Buddha Amida appearing from the other side of the mountains to welcome devotees on their deathbed. This characteristically Japanese theme may have originally been based on the esoteric Buddhist practice of contemplating on the moon, imposed with the image of the Buddha’s enlightened countenance. For this reason, the prototype for such paintings often has a strong frontal composition. This hanging scroll, however, can be characterized by the pictorial depiction of the scenery and captures Amida and his retinue appearing diagonally from between the mountains as if they are about to welcome the devotee.

Although it is not altogether clear whether to read the title yamagoe (coming over the mountains) or yamagoshi (beyond the mountains), the ancient Japanese view of the next world lying beyond the mountains influenced the development of this theme, hence, the reading yamagoshi seems to more befitting. In other words, yamagoshi can be understood as Amida waiting to receive the spirit of the deceased who heads to the other world beyond the mountains. If the title is interpreted as such, the way the painting is expressed here somewhat diminishes its original meaning.

Although the restoration of this hanging scroll has been skillfully executed, the loss of silk around Amida’s chest and right palm suggests that the traditional five-colored strings, connecting Amida to the dying devotee, were originally attached to the painting, which was likely to have been actually hung near the deathbed of the devotee who held the strings at the other end in the final moments of life. The co-founder of the newspaper company The Asahi Shimbun, Ueno Riichi (1848–1919) , which was renowned since the pre-war Japan.

Kōfuku-ji Mandala (13th Century) by UnknownKyoto National Museum

Kōfuku-ji Mandala
13th Century

TThis hanging scroll previously belonged to the celebrated modern Japanese painter Takeuchi Seihō (1864–1942). The uppermost section depicts Kasuga and Wakamiya Shrines in Nara, while the various Buddhist images enshrined in the halls of Kōfuku-ji Temple occupy the space below. Kasuga Shrine is the home of the tutelary Shinto deities of the powerful Fujiwara clan, while Kōfuku-ji is the family temple of the Fujiwara. Although Kōfuku-ji is the primary subject matter in this painting, the work is classified as a type of Kasuga Shrine Mandala.

One theory suggests that the present work is the only one of its kind that shows the arrangement of the Buddhist statues at Kōfuku-ji before a fire caused by the disturbances between the Minamoto and Taira clans at the end of 1180 ( Jishō 4) that destroyed the temple. Because of this, the painting is highly regarded for having historical value in offering insight into the many extant Buddhist statues at Kōfuku-ji Temple today.

The different applications of gold found throughout reveal the meticulous care given to this work—gold leaf was pressed onto the silk from the back of the painting to create an iridescence for the bodies of the buddha and bodhisattva images, while gold paint was applied on the front to depict the intricate outlines of their bodies. The lavish detailing that is extremely difficult to discern with the naked eye is a distinguishing feature of this work. These stylistic elements suggest that the painting dates to some time immediately before or after the fire in 1180, around the end of the Heian to the early Kamakura periods. Another theory, however, suggests that several of the depicted statues were carved after fire, leaving us with several questions regarding this work.

Mandala of King Enma (13th Century) by UnknownKyoto National Museum

Mandala of King Enma
13th Century

This painting—also known as Jūkyūi mandara (Mandala of Nineteen Deities) in the thirteenth-century Tendai esoteric iconography book, Asabashō (Compendium of A [Buddha], Sa [Lotus], and Ba [Vajra])—consists of nineteen deities including Enma-ten (Skt. Yama-deva). Asabashō additionally recounts the story of the priest-painter Toba Sōjō (1053–1140), (also known as Kakuyū) of Onjō-ji Temple presenting this painting to the cloistered Emperor Toba (1103–1156).

The close proximity of years, in which the iconography seen in this painting was established and the painter of this work was active, makes it highly probable that the iconography circulated within the Jimon branch of the Tendai sect. Seated below are the Lord of Mount Tai (Taizan fukun) and the Great God of the Five Paths (Godō daijin). The Lord of Mount Tai is especially significant as the god of a mountain associated with the underworld in Chinese mythology. The influence of Chinese beliefs in the afterworld can also be seen in the wrathful countenance rather than the tranquil bodhisattva-like depiction usually seen in esoteric images of Enma-ten (Skt. Yama-deva); this signifies the conceptual transition from a peaceful Enma-ten to a fierce Enma-ō (Skt. Yama-rāja) or king of the underworld.

Although Chinese beliefs in the afterworld were introduced to Japan as early as the Nara period, the Japanese understood them only abstractly and continued to accept traditional Japanese views. However, during the late Heian period, Pure Land teachings and these Chinese beliefs came to be assimilated by the Japanese and evolved into the modern Japanese view of the afterworld.
This hanging scroll, which formerly belonged to one of the founders of Mainichi Shimbun Newspaper Company, Murayama Ryōhei (1850–1933), demonstrates characteristics of King Enma from the transition period.

Otokoyama Hachiman Shrine Mandala (13-14th Century) by UnknownKyoto National Museum

Otokoyama Hachiman Shrine Mandala
13-14th Century

This shrine mandala captures a scene from the front of the main building of Iwashimizu Hachiman Shrine in Tsuzuki county, Yamashiro province (now Yawata city in Kyoto prefecture). Otokoyama is a sobriquet for Hatogamine (“Pigeon Peak”, elevation approximately 143 meters), where the shrine is located, and has been known since early times as a celebrated poetic place name for its distinctive shape.

The three Shinto deities in the main shrine in the upper half of the painting and the four deities in the auxiliary shrines below appear in their Buddhist manifestations. At the center of the main shrine is the Buddha Amida (Skt. Amitābha) with his attendant bodhisattvas Kannon (Skt. Avalokitêśvara) on the right and Seishi (Skt. Mahāsthāmaprāpta) on the left. Below on the two sides of the stonepaved path are arranged Amida (in Takeuchi Shrine) and Seishi (Kōra Shrine) in the upper and lower left respectively, and Eleven-headed Kannon (Wakamiya Shrine) and Fugen (Skt. Samantabhadra; Wakamiyaden Shrine) in the upper and lower right.

Although this painting somewhat differs from the actual scenery, the depiction of the shrine visitors and the pigeons, which represent the messengers of the shrine, on the rooftop of the inner sanctuary vividly convey the ambience at the front of the main building in the late Kamakura period. An inscription from a restoration treatment in 1588 (Tenshō 16) on the back side of the hanging scroll records a previous inscription for a restoration in 1479 (Bunmei 11). According to this earlier inscription, members of the Koga court family, whose tutelary deity was enshrined at Iwashimizu Hachiman Shrine, donated this painting as the central image to be used during the Hachiman cofraternity gatherings held on the eleventh day of each month. The elder statesman of the Meiji period, Inoue Kaoru (1868–1912), who was known as an avid collector of antique art, once owned this work.

Jizo Bosatsu (Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha) (13th Century) by UnknownKyoto National Museum

Jizo Bosatsu (Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha)
13th Century

This painting depicts the central image of worship for Kyoto’s Mibu-dera Temple, home of Mibu Kyōgen, a form of medieval Japanese pantomime. Renowned since ancient times as Mibu Jizō (Skt. Ks・itigarbha), the central image of worship was originally a wooden sculpture carved in the Kamakura period. However, a fire in 1962 claimed the statue and main temple building in which it was enshrined.

The painting here was made in the latter half of the Kamakura period and is invaluable as a pictorial representation of the central image, which was destroyed in the fire. Mibu Jizō, who holds a staff in his right hand and a sacred jewel in the left, is expressed in a rare form with an ornate nimbus and sitting in halflotus position with his left leg pendant.

Moreover, there are no other examples of Jizō flanked by attendants. Here, Jizō appears with Enma-ten (Skt. Yama-devā) on the right and Kenrō Jishin (Skt. Pr・thivī) on the left. Jizō and Enma-ten are thought to have been consubstantial, while Jishin (also known as Jiten), who later became the base for belief in Jizō, was originally an earth deity in Indian tradition. Both Enma-ten and Jishin appear here as esoteric Buddhist deities.

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