Important Cultural PropertyHead of Monk’s Staff (Shakujō)

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  • Cast bronze, gilded
  • H. 19.8 cm, D. 8.6 cm (rings)
  • Japan, Kamakura period, 13th century
  • Kyoto National Museum
  • E甲329

The shakujō, or monk’s staff, is one of the eighteen requisite possessions of a Buddhist cleric. These staffs are generally topped with metal finials, typically a larger ring fitted with smaller dangling rings over a central cylindrical spire into which fits the pole handle. Monks carry shakujō as walking staffs while begging for alms or on pilgrimage. The jangling sounds of the metal rings as the staff hits the ground ward off snakes or animals and are thought to shake off the practitioner’s worldly illusions and accelerate Buddhist awakening.

This finial with an inverted heart-shaped form doubly indented on either side is typical of examples dating from the Kamakura period. At the top is a sacred Buddhist jewel (hōjū) over palmette volutes; pagodas on clouds grace the upper indentations, while crescent moon shapes representing “diamond tusks” (kongō ge) rest on the sides above the lower indentations. At the tip of the spire is a five-element pagoda nestled between volute tendrils and flanked by Buddhist water sprinklers (kundika). On either side are two dangling rings with rhomboidal cross sections and lobed forms; each has a small opening in one side. The cylindrical spire, into which a pole handle would be inserted, comprises four lotus-petal segments, each rendered differently and tightly bound by double rings.

This gilt bronze shakujō finial is nearly identical to another finial owned by the MOA Museum of Art in Japan’s Shizuoka prefecture. Both have the same number of rings and nearly identical decorative elements, down to minor details, suggesting they were manufactured in the same foundry around the same time. With its meticulous casting and gilding and its robust workmanship, this important object exemplifies the prowess of metal workshops for Buddhist implements in the Kamakura period (1185–1333).