National TreasureAmida beyond the Mountains (Yamagoshi Amida)

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  • ink and color on silk
  • Height: 120.6cm Width: 80.3cm
  • Japan, Kamkura period, 13th century
  • Kyoto National Museum
  • A甲282

Yamagoshi Amida, or Amitabha beyond the Mountains, refers to paintings of the Buddha Amida appearing from the other side of the mountains to welcome devotees on their deathbed to the Puce Land. This characteristically Japanese theme may have originally been based on the esoteric Buddhist practice of contemplating on the moon, imposed with the image of the Buddha's enlightened countenance. For this reason, the prototype foe such paintings often has a strong frontal composition. This hanging scroll, however, can be characterized by the pictorial depiction of the scenery and captures Amida and his retinue appearing diagonally from between the mountains as if they are about co welcome the devotee.
Although it is not altogether clear whether to read the characters of the title yamagoe (coming over the mountains) or yamagoshi (beyond the mountains), the ancient Japanese view of the next world lying beyond the mountains influenced the development of this theme, hence, the reading yamagoshi seems mote befitting. In other words, yamagoshi can be understood as Amida waiting to receive the spirit of the deceased who heads to the other world beyond the mountains. If the title is interpreted as such, however, the way the painting is expressed here somewhat diminishes its original meaning.
Although the restoration of this hanging scroll has been skillfully executed, the loss of silk around Amida’s chest and right palm suggests that the traditional five-colored strings, connecting Amida to the dying devotee, were originally attached to the painting, which was likely to have been actually hung neat the deathbed of the devotee who held the strings at the other end in the final moments of life. The co-founder of the newspaper company The Asahi Shimbun, Ueno Riichi (1848-1919), formerly owned this work, which was renowned since pre-wat Japan.