Important Cultural PropertySutra Box with Design of Phoenix

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  • 1 piece
  • Wood, black-lacquered and inlaid with gold and mother-of-pearl (later addition)
  • L 20.2, W 39.3, H 25.3
  • Yuan dynasty, China/14th century
  • Nara National Museum
  • 955(工198)

This is a rectangular sutra box in the Inrobuta style. It was used as a box to store sutras in orihon format (a long strip of paper folded in zigzag fashion).

The sides of the lid are beveled to fit on the deep box. The entire surface of the box is coated with black lacquer, on which patterns are made using sokin (chinkin) technique (a technique to cut gold/silver leaf into strips or different shapes and paste it on the lacquered surface). In a diamond shape on the top surface of the lid is a pair of Chinese phoenixes in flight. While the same design of two flying peacocks can be found on the long sides of the body, one of the short sides has a design of two flying parrots and the other short side has four praying bhikkus among the clouds. Mother-of-pearl of great green turban shells is applied to the rim and the beveled sides of the lid. Inside the box, red lacquer is applied, making a bright contrast with the black lacquer applied to the box surface.

Boxes similar to this one, including some slightly different in size and pattern, have been handed down to Seiganji Temple in Fukuoka, Jodoji Temple in Hiroshima, Komyobo in Hiroshima, the Kyushu National Museum (from Hagaji Temple in Fukui), Saifukuji Temple in Fukui (from Jokein Temple in Kyoto), Daitokuji Temple in Kyoto, Myorenji Temple in Kyoto and Hoshakuji Temple in Kyoto. Among these, the sutra boxes of Seiganji Temple in Fukuoka, Komyobo in Hiroshima and the Kyushu National Museum are considered the same in terms of the shape, size, accompanying inscription type, year of creation, craftsman and place of creation. A sutra box made by a different craftsman is the one at Jodoji Temple in Hiroshima. The inscription on the back of the lid of each box shows that they were all created in 1315 during the Yuan period in Hangzou, China. The reference mark using Senjimon (1000 letters) engraved on each box suggests that they were mass produced by many subcontractors. Although this sutra box does not bear an inscription, it can be said that this one was also created under similar conditions.

Due to the use of Senjimon, some estimate that these sutra boxes including this one were used for Issaikyo (the complete canon of Buddhist texts). However, in order to establish the purpose of use of the box, some issues, such as the issue of the arrangement of characters, need to be resolved first. This sutra box came from Kozanji Temple in Kyoto.