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.


ZACL said...

Hello Keiko,

Your pictures are interesting...I really like the reflecting bridge, the carving of it connects well with the theme of this post.

keiko amano said...

Thank you, ZACL!

David Hartford said...

This is a very interesting article, Ms. Amano!

I am happy to say that the ever-impressive invention called
a "search engine" has enabled me to connect a random encounter
on the westbound 187 bus today with an interesting and talented writer,
cultural commentator, and blogger, the talented Ms. Keiko Amano!

I tried to follow the link to the picture of the chiseled rough-
finished Buddha, but it led to a "404 - page not found" result.
Through your writing, however, I had a fascinating image in
my mind... Nice hydrangeas, by the way!!

And now...

(Please excuse my highly unpolished Japanese writing skills,
but I felt compelled to attempt to write about my
day in Japanese...)



ー デーベイッド

keiko amano said...


Wow! Thank you for finding me and sending me your kind message!

This is a pleasant surprise! You speak and also write well in Japanese. That's amazing. The only word I didn't understand was トレジョ。

It was great to have met you yesterday.



ZACL said...

Greetings Keiko,

I occasionally visit your site. It is very good to see that you are still around, even if this is a 2015 post. My how time flies!

David mentions he was on the 187 bus route. Would that be in London U K I wonder. If so, I have memories of that route.

Warmest wishes to you Keiko

keiko amano said...


How are you? Thank you for dropping by.

187 bus used to run from Pasadena, California, to Montclair, which passes Claremont and San Dimas. It belongs to Foothill Transit, and recently the 187 bus split by Azusa and called it 188 between Azusa and Montclair, and between Azusa and Pasadena remains 187. It was a pretty big surprise to me when I returned in December. The bus fare and the route change were taken place while I was gone.

It seems this winter is colder than usual. Keep warm!