Seated Nyoirin Kannon (Important Cultural Property), Heian period, 10th century.
An impressive collection of treasures titled Daigoji Temple: A Shingon Esoteric Buddhist Universe in Kyoto is on display until November 11 at the Suntory Museum of Art at Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi.
The event provides visitors an opportunity to come face-to-face with magnificent Buddhist artworks — without even going to Kyoto. Visitors will especially find pondering the national treasure Buddhist statute on exhibit to be a very pleasurable experience.
Buddhism is a major faith in Japan. Although we go to Shinto shrines for Hatsumōde (first New Year’s greeting) and Shichi-Go-San (blessings for children who turn 3, 5, and 7 years old), most funerals are conducted Buddhist-style. Buddhist services are held for ancestors during the summer Obon ceremonies and we visit family graves during Higan (spring and autumn equinox days).
However, the differences between Japanese Buddhist temples and those of other Asian countries are evident.
Almost all cultural values and practices in our island country have roots in Eurasia, passing through China and the Korean Peninsula before finally arriving in Japan. Here, they were molded into a distinctive national identity, partly because they could go no further.
It is common knowledge that Buddhism started in India and had a huge influence in China and throughout Asia, including Japan. This exhibition shows one unique form of Japanese Buddhist art.
The expressions of Buddhist images vary even within the same faith, perhaps as a result of cultural diversity and differences in national character. Rather than visiting a temple out of religious faith, though, try to forget about your surroundings and take a good look at the Buddhist objects in this exhibition as works of art. This approach is especially recommended for the displays in Section 2 of the exhibition, the dramatic Godai Myooh (Five Great Wisdom Kings).
Study the face of one of the Buddhist images that catches your eye. Quietly observing the image will reveal to you the reasons behind its expression and what its creator was trying to convey, express, and communicate. You will receive a special revelation and feel a change within you. Last but not least, you will leave the exhibition with a deeper understanding of Japanese national identity.
Japanese images of the Godai Myooh — the Five Great Wisdom Kings — are popular and greatly revered. They are Fudo Myooh (Acala), Gohzanze Myooh (Trailokyavijaya), Gundari Myooh (Kundali), Daiitoku Myooh (Yamantaka), and Kongoh Yasha Myooh (Vajrayaksa).
Experience the transformation of Buddhism in Japan and the uniqueness of Buddhist images created by and for the Japanese.
For more information on where and how to experience this rare face-to-face encounter with images of Buddha and other artworks from Daigoji Temple, please click here.
For the exhibition summary and here for other works from the exhibition.
Click here for information on entry fees, access, and exhibition hours.
Author: Yukihiro Watanabe