Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hiraizumi and Yanaginogosho

Why UNESCO dropped Yanaginogosho off Hiraizumi as the world heritage site?

According to the professor I discussed this matter with, he said the people in charge of selecting world heritages chose only the religion connected sites for Hiraizumi. The religion is Buddhism and Yanaginogosho was the palace for one of the Fujiwara families that ruled the north of Japan for one hundred years.

The problem is without Yanaginogosho, there was no Buddhist temples or gardens. Yanaginogosho was the center and the accumulation of the culture which was unique to that region. The professor seemed to regret that the Japan side committee brought up "Pure Land Buddhism" into this argument. I read the UNESCO site as follows and understood why he said that: 

I think the Japanese official out of desperation trying to include Yanaginogosho to the world heritage piped the uniqueness using the term “Pure Land Buddhism.” The term sounds magical but I’m not impressed. How Japanese live with religions is different from the western standards. And Buddhism is quite different religion from Christianity and other western religions.

I think if we can, it’s more important to raise awareness of the difference than just to have Yanaginogosho included to the world heritage site. I know that's really tough, but after all, if UNESCO is the world standards, it cannot remain the western centric forever. What do you think?

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Chanting of Buddhist Sculptors

称名寺、金沢文庫 Shoumyouji, Kanazawabunnko, Yokohama

I visit here almost every time I return to Japan so you've probably seen similar views before, but each time is a new meeting. Indeed, I was glad to visit Shoumyouji yesterday and see the exhibition of Hinata Yakushi (Buddha statue). A soft spoken senior volunteer was speaking fits and starts as I entered the room. He moved to the three Buddha statues called 本尊薬師三尊像 and began speaking detail about the construction of the statue. I was intrigued. 


Seeing is believing. The middle statue is largest. Please see the images below.
The following is from an older event, but you see the whole view of the center Buddha statue.


It was so good to listen to an intelligent and passionate expert and so exciting to find out recent discoveries not only on physical parts found under the floor or wall or inside the statues, but the newly developed perspectives on the past established views.

The technique of carving that above statue is called natabori 鉈彫 and nata means hatchet, but chisel was used. I wondered why the naming is confusing but I thought both hatchets and chisels were used. Anyway, the similar technique was also used on making Gumyouji Kannon—I want to remind you of Gumi chan’s Gumyouji-- so I was excited. Some experts used to believe, because of its rough texture, they were incomplete. I wish all the photos of Buddha statues are available online. I wish you can see them. The Gumyouji Kannon is very rough carved statue and unique in that, unlike other divine and authoritative looking statues. The Hinata Yakushi statue in above links comes with a smaller beautiful statute on both sides. 

Again I wish I could show you those two statues, which showed beautiful repetitive chiseled marks all around their bodies. Today, experts came to understanding that the rough texture of natabori was not because of its incompleteness in finish but it is now known as a distinct carving technique. Of course! I recommend Gumyouji Kannon to be upgraded to a national treasure! When I saw it in the Ueno National Museum, I was shocked and delighted. It was nothing like all others. How dare those experts to judge the truth-seeking rough carved Gumyouji Kannon to be unfinished! Don’t you love this story?

Another discovery or new interpretation on the chisel technique is this. When Kaikei, the name of the creator, carved the statue, the chiseling noises made comforting music. It must be entrancing to listeners as well as the artist making the statue. Kaikei expressed his experience in the finishing touch. You can see a little bit of the chisel marks at the edge of the first photo, and they get stronger marks outward on to the smaller statues. Unkei is the most famous Japanese Buddha sculptor, but I think the expert wanted to say that Kaike is not as famous as Unkei, but he left magic on his creations, especially in the half-open, communicating eyes. 

Don’t you love this new perspective? It made sense to me. I found a seat behind the audience, sat, and imagined the scene that took place 800 years ago: Hojo Masako and her daughter-in-law came to pay their respect to this Buddha and I was looking at the same statue who had seen all.