Important Cultural PropertyAkasagarbha (space-womb) Bodhisattva

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  • 1 hanging scroll
  • Color on silk
  • 108.0x60.8
  • Kamakura period/13th century
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • A-989

Kokuuzo Bodhisattva had been worshiped as the principal image in an esoteric rite to improve memory (Gumonjiho) since the Nara period before Kukai introduced systematic Esoteric Buddhism from China into Japan. The description of the Bodhisattva image in this drawing clearly represents the principal image used in the esoteric rite of Gumonjiho: Depicted in gold, Kokuzo Bodhisattva sits on a lotus pedestal placed within a big white circle representing the full moon, with his right palm facing outward with all five fingers hanging down and his left hand holding a red lotus flower with a sacred gem with flames. The image emitting each three radiating lines from the head and body is the true form of the principal image used in the esoteric rite of Gumonjiho.
 This painting is well-known as an elaborate, high-quality piece that fully embodies the following features of the 13th-century Kamakura period: Long slit eyes, the firm body, a waving tenne (a long cloth) and kanzo (ornamental ribbons hanging from the sides of a crown), overly decorative yet dignified description of lotus petals and slightly subdued blue, green and red colors which make a clear contrast with each other. The mountain landscape drawn in the lower part of the screen is said to represent Mt. Asama in Ise. Kukai, who learned the Gumonjiho from the fourth priest from Daianji Temple's Doji, who had introduced and disseminated the Gumonjiho in Japan, is said to have acquired the Gumonjiho at the Kongo Shoji Temple on Mt. Asama. This painting was created in relation to the tradition of initiation into the esoteric rites and serves as a suijaku painting (paintings based on the concept that Shinto deities are manifestations of Buddhist deities) depicting the honjibutsu (the original Buddhist identity of a Shinto deity) of the Gongen (Shinto deity) of Mt. Asama.