National TreasureSacred Treasures from Asuka Shrine

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  • Muromachi period
  • Kyoto National Museum
  • I甲68

Situated at the mouth of the Kumano River, which runs along the prefectural border between Wakayama and Mie, Kumano Hayatama Shrine (also known as Shingu, or "New Shrine") is one of the three places of worship that comprise the so-called "Three Mountains of Kumano" (J., Kumano sanzan) the other two being the Main Shrine (J., Hongu) and the Nachi Shrine. Beginning in the Heian period (794-1185), Kumano Hayatama Shrine was patronized by a large number of people, from retired emperors and dignitaries on down. Asuka Shrine was an affiliated shrine (J., sessha) of Kumano Hayatama Shrine, meaning that it was linked with the larger organization and that the deities worshipped at the two shrines were closely identified.

In traditional Shinto belief, changing and renewing the sacred space and accoutrements of a deity lend him or her new vitality; once energized, the deity is able to save people from disease and natural disasters. In hopes of receiving such protection, worshippers gave shrine deities offerings of new costumes and furnishings, called “sacred treasures” (J., shinpo). Originally, Kumano Hayatama Shrine was rebuilt every thirty-three years, and sacred treasures were offered each time. By the late Kamakura period (1185-1333), however, the government no longer provided sufficient funds for rebuilding, and so the customary offerings ceased to be made. The shrine was not rebuilt until 1390 (Meitoku 1), in the late Nanbokucho period (1333-92), when the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408) ordered sacred treasures to be prepared for Kumano Hayatama Shrine. On that occasion, similar goods were likewise given to the affiliate Asuka Shrine. After that, the sacred treasures of Asuka were carefully preserved together with those of Kumano Hatayama Shrine.

In 1955 the sacred treasures of Asuka Shrine were designated National Treasures and became state property. The Kyoto National Museum currently houses this collection, which includes garments as well as furnishings such as a toiletry case (J., tebako) and mirrors. Among the articles of dress for use by a male deity are an outer robe (J., ho), outer trousers (J., ue no hakama), a headdress, a belt decorated with stones (J., sekitai), and a scepter; those meant for a female deity include an unlined robe (J., hitoe), trousers with seashore motif (J., kaibu no mo), a sash (J., obi), hair extensions, and a painted fan. While it is thought that imperial properties and objects from shrines other than Kumano Hayatama Shrine were later added to the sacred treasures at Asuka Shrine, none of them date from later than the Muromachi period (1392-1573).