To is a combination of flags that are used to decorate the main hall of a temple in the shape of a hexagon or octagon. To made of stone are called sekito, the creation of which began in the Sui period in China. Many sekito examples have Darani (magical words) carved on the body. This one is a typical sekito of the Darani type. It became popular in Japan around the Kamakura period and there are three designated sekito made in Japan (one national treasure and two important cultural properties), in addition to this one.
This slender sekito in an octagonal shape can be divided into three parts, namely, roof, body and base and is comprised of ten members. The roof part has a roofed octagonal structure with a top (Hocho), while the body part has a double-deck structure comprising large and small sections divided by a middle band. The base part has a five-deck structure comprising three lotus pedestals and two bands. On the large and small sections of the body part are engraved deities, which are stored in Butsugan (a small storage container for a Buddha image), Darani and inscriptions in Sanskrit. This sekito is in the form of square pole where large and small planes alternate.
The relief on the body part, which bears the inscription of “nine Kohoin people (廣法院大衆九名) offered a prayer with a vow (結縁願主)” and the year (1084) of creation, features mild modeling and represents a standard type of Buddhist sculpture of the Liao period. Sekito carry many different themes, such as seated Tathagata, standing Bhikku, flying celestial beings, Bodhisattva representing song, dance or voice, imaginary birds called Karyobinga and kaeribana (lotus petal design). Their carving methods, such as deep or shallow relief and overall styles also vary with the time.
Long stone structures like sekito tend to break down over a long period of time. In fact, the members of this sekito seem to have been repaired, renewed or replaced many times since the stone quality of the members is not uniform and they do not fit into each other well. It is, therefore, clear that this sekito is not in its original form. The inscriptions, such as the establishment years in 1086 and 1276 and the repeated repairs probably of the base performed in 1405, may reflect such background.
This sekito was donated by Masanosuke Fukuda to the Imperial Kyoto National Museum in 1927 and has since been exhibited on the premises or in the basement of the Museum. Upon the opening of the Kyushu National Museum in 2005, it was moved from the Kyoto National Museum to the Kyushu National Museum. In an effort to ensure the safety of visitors, a seismic floor isolation structure dedicated to the sekito was added in an earthquake-proof building. It is currently exhibited in the Cultural Exchange Room on the fourth floor.