Thursday, September 22, 2011

22/09 SHOSO-IN TREASURES SPECIAL / Unveiling treasures of ancient Japan

The 63rd Annual Exhibition of Shoso-in Treasures will be held from Oct. 29 to Nov. 14 at the Nara National Museum. In the following, we offer our readers a glimpse of the rare treasures that will be on display.
NARA--Visitors to the Shoso-in treasures exhibition will no doubt find beauty and pleasure in its exhibits, which include elaborately designed swords and priest robes that emit the essence of design from the periods they were crafted in.
Sixty-two pieces from the large collection of the Shoso-in storehouse in Nara, which are mainly associated with Emperor Shomu (701-756) and Todaiji temple in Nara, will be exhibited this year. Seventeen of them have never been before publicly shown.
Visitors will be enchanted by swords decorated with silver and gold made using a technique similar to that used for makie lacquerware, and also priest robes made of several pieces of cloth and fine silken threads. These ancient items manifest the wisdom of the skilled craftsmen who painstakingly made them.
One prominent treasure of the collection is the gorgeous sword Kingin Denso no Karatachi. Its sheath, decorated using the makkinru technique, which uses makie-like methods, depicts beasts and birds, clouds and arabesque patterns. Makkinru craftsmen paint objects with coarse flour gold then coat a fine lacquered layer on top; grinding designs into the lacquer exposes the vivid gold color underneath.
"Kokka Chinpo Cho," a list of Shoso-in items treasured by Emperor Shomu that, upon his death, were dedicated to the Great Buddha statue at Todaiji temple by Empress Komyo (701-760), suggests Kingin Denso no Karatachi came from China's Tang dynasty (618-907).
Upon the occurrence of the Fujiwara no Nakamaro rebellion in 764, 100 swords associated with Emperor Shomu were removed from the Shoso-in storehouse and used as weapons. Only three have been found, including Kingin Denso no Karatachi.
In 2010, two ancient swords discovered buried under the pedestal of the Great Buddha statue at Todaiji temple about a century ago were confirmed as Yo no Hoken and In no Hoken. The discovery of the swords, missing for about 1,250 years, heightens the possibility that others from Shoso-in could be found.
One question stirs the imagination: Why were items decorated using methods so similar to the makie technique--widely believed to be originally Japanese--apparently used to make Chinese objects?
Shichijo Shokusei Juhishoku no Kesa, a quilted priest robe made of seven mottled strips and adorned with beautiful arabesque patterns, is believed to have been used by Emperor Shomu after he devoted himself to Buddhism.
Kesa robes are made from pieces of cloth that Buddhist followers donated to temples, and are characterized by silken threads and elaborate tapestries.
Shichijo Shokusei Juhishoku no Kesa is listed in the opening part of "Kokka Chinpo Cho," which hints of Empress Komyo's fondness of the robe.
The exhibit Koge Bachiru no Shaku (red-stained ivory measuring ruler) exemplifies the ancient bachiru technique of carving designs into red-stained ivory. Records tell us that each year during China's Tang dynasty, subordinate warriors would present such a ruler to the emperor. Koge Bachiru no Shaku suggests similar ceremonies might have occurred at the imperial court of Heijokyo, currently in Nara Prefecture, which was established as the capital of Japan in 710.
It's easy to get excited when gazing upon these beautiful treasures, whose craftsmanship emotionally appeals to us in ways that transcend time.
The star of the show
NARA--The treasure drawing the most attention at this year's Annual Exhibition of Shoso-in Treasures at the Nara National Museum is Ojukuko, a piece of agarwood, better known as Ranjatai, which will displayed for the first time in 14 years. The three kanji that represent Ojukuko contain another three characters that represent Todaiji temple.
Ojukuko, 1.56 meters long and weighing 11.6 kilograms, is an aromatic wood called jinko in Japanese. Although believed to be indigenous to mountainous areas in central Laos and Vietnam, many details--including how it came to be treasured in Shoso-in--remain unclear.
When it is burned, resin in the wood emits a unique smell. Small chips are cut from it and burned for fragrance.
The piece had been a symbol of elegance and power adored by powerful people throughout history.
Slips of paper pasted on the wood bear the names of Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436-1490), the eighth shogun of the Muromachi shogunate; warlord Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582); and Emperor Meiji (1852-1912), indicating they had a chip cut from the piece.
-- Exhibition period: Oct. 29 to Nov. 14 (open daily)
-- Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (until 7 p.m. on Fridays, weekends and Nov. 3.) Entrance is permitted until 30 minutes before closing time.
-- Admission: 1,000 yen for adults, 700 yen for high school and university students, and 400 yen for primary and middle school students. Prices are 900 yen, 600 yen and 300 yen, respectively, for groups of 20 or more, or for advance tickets. Advance tickets will be sold from late September to Oct. 28. Tickets purchased at the museum 90 minutes or less before closing are 700 yen, 500 yen and 200 yen, respectively.
-- Organizer: Nara National Museum
-- Supporters: NTT West Corp., Kintetsu Corp., Central Japan Railway Co., West Japan Railway Co., Daikin Industries, Ltd., Daiwa House Industry Co., Tezukayama Gakuen and Tezukayama University, and Hakutsuru Sake Brewing Co., with special cooperation from The Yomiuri Shimbun.
(Sep. 22, 2011)

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