Japanese Art – Reiho-kwan Museum, Kongobu-ji And Other Temples On Mt. Koya

Koyasan, literally ” Plateau Mountain,” was virgin land when it was selected by Kobo Daishi for the headquarters of the new Shingon sect that he founded at the beginning of the 9th century. Since his time, the extensive area has been consecrated and the trees protected, so that today we see old inspiring cedars and maki soaring high to the sky.

Since olden times the monastery has been venerated by Imperial families, military chiefs as well as common people. There were once a large number of buildings of great architectural merit, but, unfortunately, repeated fires destroyed the precious relics of Buddhist art and faith. There now remain only a few, which have been made national treasures. However, several Buddhist paintings and works of sculpture, excellent examples of different ages, remain in several temples at Koyasan, while most of them form a large collection in the Reiho-kwan Museum there and which is open to the public. Students of art are advised to visit the museum first.

Among the Buddhist paintings in the museum, the following are the most important and worthy of study :

1) Amida and Twenty-five Bodhisattvas coming down from heaven (Fig. 5). In quality and scale, this is one of the greatest Buddhist paintings, and it is a national treasure. The artist is said to be a priest named Eshin. The outlines of the sacred figures are entirely built up with fine, red delicate lines, and the main figure is gorgeously decorated with designs in gold. The Bodhisattvas are very human in the expression of their faces and bodies. The variety of colors and the graceful postures mark the full glory of the feminine beauty of the age in which this painting was produced, that is, about the 10th century.

2) Butsu Nehan-zu, ” Buddha’s Entrance into Nirvana.” This is painted in color on silk. Compared with other well-known pictures of Nirvana, this one has fewer figures or animals surrounding the Buddha. Grief is not so exaggerated as it is usually ; and the delicate lines and lovely color scheme well represent the feelings and ideals of the Heian Period. In a corner of the picture is inscribed ” Copied in the third year of Otoku (1086).” This e shows that this picture is the oldest among the pictures of Nirvana whose es of achievement are definitely known.

3) Portrait of Kanroku Sozu, attributed to Kobo Daishi. It is painted in color on silk. Kanroku Sozu was a learned priest who initiated Kobo Daishi in the Shami-kai. It is a successful attempt to paint the greatness of the priest, and is a famous masterpiece of portraiture of the Heian Period.

The museum contains some excellent examples of wood sculpture, among which the Fudo of Shochi-in will not fail to attract the visitor.

Among the minor arts is. a lacquered chest decorated with the iris and birds in gold and mother-of-pearl, famous for its elegant design and color scheme of gold and white on a black lacquer ground.

There remain a few unique examples of painting such as the Red-Fudo in the Myo-o-in and several masterpieces of Buson in the Shinno-in monastery. However, it is very difficult to obtain permission to see the Red-Fudo.

The following temples, always opended to the public, are worthy of inspection.

There is the Kongobu-ji monastery with several rooms decorated with gorgeous fusuma or sliding-screens. Those of the Ohiroma, decorated with a flock of cranes on the ground of gold leaf, are attributed to Kano Tannyu. The room of the plum trees and that of willows have sliding screens painted with plum trees and willows on a gold ground by masters of the Kano school.

The Main Hall of the Fudo-in, built in 1197, is the oldest building on Mt. Koya. It has five spans front and four on the side. The roof covered with hinoki bark has a graceful slope. It is in the Fujiwara style ing from the early Kamakura Period.

In the Kongosammai-in monastery, which was erected by Masako, wife of Minamoto Yoritomo, there remain two historical buildings, the Taho-to and Kyo-zo, and also pictures painted on sliding-screens. They are all listed as national treasures.

The Tahci-to stupa, built in 1223, is two-storied and of beautiful structure.. The inside was once elaborately decorated. On the first floor are installed the five wooden statues, which are excellent examples of Buddhist sculpture in the Kamakura Period.

Pictures en sliding-screens are found in the living quarters of the priests of the monastery. The motif consists of plum trees and pheasants, an example of the highly decorative painting of the 17th century.