National TreasureCenser with Handle in the Shape of a Magpie Tail

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  • 金銅柄香炉
  • 1 piece
  • Gilt brass
  • 39x10.2, censer D13.3
  • Asuka period/7th century
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • N-280

A long-handled censer is a Buddhist implement that monks hold to offer incense during services. This elegant gilt bronze example was given its name because of the way the end of its handle splits into three parts like a magpie's tail. The deep incense burner rests on a central stem in the shape of an abacus bead over a double-tiered, flower-shaped pedestal with twelve petals. The handle extends from the rim of the burner and is nailed in two places: at the base of the pedestal axis and on the outer rim of the burner. Two hemispherical metal domes ornament the handle near the rim. The overall size and simplicity of design indicate that among long-handled magpie-tail censers, this is of an older style.

On the back of the burner rim is carved in fine needle-point inscription (J. harigakimei) the characters for "Jôgû," the name of the Eastern Hall at Hôryû-ji Temple, suggesting that the censer was in some way associated with this temple building. On the underside of the handle, "Eji," the name of Prince Shôtoku's Buddhist master, is inscribed in vermilion. This censer was traditionally believed to have been used by Dharma Master Eji himself.