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Commemorating the 1200th Anniversary of Saichō's Death: Buddhist Art of the Tendai School

Commemorating the 1200th Anniversary of Saichō's Death: Buddhist Art of the Tendai School / Heiseikan Special Exhibition Galleries   October 12, 2021 (Tue) - November 21, 2021 (Sun)

 Image of "Seated Yakushi Nyorai (Bhaisajyaguru)Heian period, 12th century, Gankō-ji Temple (Kaniyakushi), Gifu (Important Cultural Property) " 
Seated Yakushi Nyorai (Bhaisajyaguru)
Heian period, 12th century, Gankō-ji Temple (Kaniyakushi), Gifu (Important Cultural Property)

The year 2021 marks the 1,200th anniversary of the death of the monk Saichō (767–822). Saichō was particularly moved by the doctrine of the Lotus Sutra, which taught that all humans were fundamentally equal. Based on this concept, he founded the Tendai school of Buddhism in Japan and spread its teachings throughout the country. Saichō also founded a temple, called Enryakuji, which produced many eminent monks. The effects of their teachings sent ripples through Japanese culture that are still felt today.

This exhibition introduces the history of Tendai Buddhism, beginning with its founding at Enryakuji Temple and ending with the founding of Kan'eiji Temple in Edo (now Tokyo) during a period in which the school held strong ties with the samurai government of the Edo period (1603–1868). The exhibition will showcase cultural works that bear unique traits from the regions in which they were treasured and passed down, and also present objects that reflect the spirit of the Lotus Sutra's radical tenet that all people can achieve salvation. 

List of Works  (866KB)

Highlights of the Exhibition

General Information

 

Highlights of the Exhibition

 

Saichō and the Roots of Tendai Buddhism

Saichō’s Disciples

The Nobility and Tendai Art

The Diverse Culture Engendered by Tendai Thought

Tendai Buddhism During the Edo Period

The Spread of Tendai Buddhism Across Japan

 

 

Saichō and the Roots of Tendai Buddhism

Based on the Lotus Sutra, the teachings of Tendai Buddhism were established by Zhiyi (538–597), a Chinese priest who lived during the Sui dynasty (581–618). Dengyō Daishi Saichō (767–822) learned about Zhiyi’s teachings from sutras brought by Jianzhen, a Chinese priest who had travelled to Japan to teach the correct precepts.

Saichō subsequently founded the Enryaku-ji Temple complex on Mount Hiei and he also travelled to China to further his studies. Upon his return home, Saichō received official permission to establish the Tendai school in Japan. The school forged its own independent path while clearly differentiating its teachings from those of the traditional great temples of Nanto (Nara). This chapter uses treasures associated with Saichō to tell the tale of his eventful life.

 

Standing Yakushi Nyorai (Bhaisajyaguru)
Heian period, 11th century, Hōkai-ji Temple, Kyōto (Important Cultural Property)

 

The principal image of Enryaku-ji’s Konpon Chudō hall is a hidden statue of Yakushi Nyorai (Bhaiṣajyaguru) carved by Saichō himself. This statue resembles Saichō’s original in the way the left arm extends outwards. It was created at the time of Hōkai-ji temple’s establishment and it features an exquisite pattern of thin strips of gold leaf on wood rendered to resemble sandalwood.

 

 

Prince Shōtoku and the High Priests of Tendai Buddhism (Saichō)
Heian period, 11th century, Ichijō-ji Temple, Hyōgo (National Treasure, On exhibit from October 12 to November 7, 2021)

These valuable 11th-century paintings depict eminent Tendai priests from India, China and Japan. Prince Shōtoku features because he wrote a commentary on the Lotus Sutra and was also believed to be a reincarnation of Huisi (Eshi), the master of Zhiyi (Chigi).

 

 

Certificate of Ordination of Priest Kōjō
By Emperor Saga, Heian period, dated 823, Enryaku-ji Temple, Shiga (National Treasure)

This certificate testifies that Saichō’s senior disciple Kōjō had been ordained under the Mahayana precepts in accordance with Saichō’s wishes. It lists Kōjō’s merits and it was brushed by Emperor Saga, a renowned calligrapher. The graceful calligraphy imbues the large characters and the unconstrained brushwork with an overarching sense of harmony.

 

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Saichō’s Disciples

Saichō was succeeded by Jikaku Daishi Ennin (794–864) and Chishō Daishi Enchin (814–891). These two priests travelled to the Chinese capital Chang’an to gain a deeper grounding in Esoteric Buddhism, which Saichō had also studied while in China. They subsequently established the foundations of Tendai Esoteric Buddhism. Other notable Tendai priests include Sōō (831–918), who founded the ascetic practice of circumambulating holy mountain sites, and Annen (841–902–). These men systemized the doctrines of Tendai Buddhism.

This chapter explores the unique path travelled by Japan’s Tendai school after the incorporation of Esoteric Buddhism.

Seated Fudō Myōō (Acalanatha)
Heian period, 10th century, Isaki-ji Temple, Shiga (Important Cultural Property)


This is the principal image at Isaki-ji, a temple in Shiga purportedly established by the Tendai priest Konryū Daishi (Sōō). The deity is shown biting his top lip, while the long braid of hair is rounded at the end. These unusual features are based on an image of Fudo Myōō (Acalanātha) that came to Sōō while training.

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The Nobility and Tendai Art

In the middle of the 10th century, the temple complex on Mount Hiei was revived by Jie Daishi Ryōgen (Ganzan Daishi; 912–985). Under Ryōgen’s leadership, and with the deep devotion and economic support of the Emperor and the powerful Fujiwara clan, Tendai Buddhism reached the height of prosperity.

However, Ryōgen’s disciple Eshin Sōzu Genshin (942–1017) distanced himself from worldly matters. Amid growing concerns about mappō, an impending age of degeneracy and chaos, Eshin applied himself to writing the Ōjōyōshū (Essential Teachings for Rebirth to the Pure Land). This treatise incorporated the Pure Land philosophy into Tendai thought, with the resultant Tendai Pure Land Buddhism providing succor for many with its promise of rebirth in a Buddhist paradise.

This chapter features magnificent Tendai treasures associated with the religious devotion of the nobility. In doing so, it examines the major role the Tendai Pure Land school had in shaping Japanese Buddhism.

Seated Yakushi Nyorai (Bhaisajyaguru)
Heian period, 12th century, Gankō-ji Temple (Kaniyakushi), Gifu (Important Cultural Property)

 

This principal image of Gankō-ji temple was revered as a statue carved by Saichō himself. Records say the temple was burnt down during war in 1108, with its main hall rebuilt the following year. From the facial features and the structure comprising several blocks fitted together, it seems the statue’s production may date to around this time.

 

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The Diverse Culture Engendered by Tendai Thought

As Buddhism permeated the Japanese consciousness, the Lotus Sutra and its doctrine of universal salvation inspired Hōnen (1133–1212), Shinran (1173–1263), Nichiren (1222–1282) and other priests to found new schools that became collectively known as New Kamakura Buddhism. After training at Mount Hiei for over 20 years, meanwhile, Shinsei (1443–1495) established the Tendai Shinsei school based on Pure Land thought and the observance of Buddhist precepts.

The syncretic Sannō Shintō school of Tendai Buddhism was also founded during the medieval period based on the theory of honji suijaku, which states that Japan’s indigenous kami (gods) are manifestations of Buddhist deities. This new school was centered around the worship of Hie Sannō, the tutelary shrine of Mount Hiei.

This chapter examines how the teachings of the Lotus Sutra led to the blossoming of a rich variety of Tendai schools during Japan’s medieval period.

Standing Amida Nyorai (Amitabha)
Heian period, 10th century, Shinshōgokuraku-ji Temple (Shinnyo-dō), Kyōto (Important Cultural Property, On exhibit from Octover 19 to November 3, 2021)

 

This statue was purportedly made by Ennin, a priest who promulgated the Pure Land faith on Mount Hiei. The statue’s lightness and soft features suggest it was made when Shinshogōkuraku-ji’s main hall was built in 992. As such, it is the oldest extant standing Amida Nyorai statue.

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Tendai Buddhism During the Edo Period

In 1571, the temple complex on Mount Hiei was razed to the ground by Oda Nobunaga, though it was later restored by Toyotomi Hideyoshi and the Tokugawa Shogunate. Jigen Daishi Tenkai (1536–1643) played a pivotal role in this restoration. He served under the Tokugawa Shogunate and he developed Tōshōgū Shrine and Rinnō-ji Temple on Mount Nikkō as memorials to Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was deified as Tōshō Daigongen after his death. Tenkai also established Tōeizan Kan’ei-ji Temple in Edo (present-day Tōkyō) and he laid the foundations for Tendai Buddhism’s propagation across the Kantō region.

This chapter explores the history of Tendai Buddhism during the Edo period through the resplendent Edo Tendai treasures that blossomed under the patronage of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

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The Spread of Tendai Buddhism Across Japan

Tendai Buddhism places great emphasis on the Lotus Sutra teaching that “the path to enlightenment is open for anybody.” This doctrine formed the basis of the Tendai school’s propagation across Japan. The ancient Japanese practice of worshipping kami (gods) who dwell in sacred mountains was also incorporated into Tendai Buddhism, with this unique syncretism still practiced in many parts of Japan today. This chapter uses treasures passed down across Japan to explore how Tendai Buddhism prospered throughout the whole country.

 

(Volume 2, detail)

Illustrated Story of the Life of Jigen Daishi
Illustrations by Sumiyoshi Gukei; Foreword by Inkai, Edo period, dated 1680, Kan'ei-ji Temple, Tōkyō
(On exhibit from October 26 to November 7, 2021)

These illustrated scrolls recount the life of Jigen Daishi (Tenkai). From the postscript on the third scroll, we know the text was written by Inkai, Tenkai's disciple and an academic chief at Kan’ei-ji temple, with the illustrations handled by Sumiyoshi Gukei, an official painter for the Tokugawa Shogunate. This is also one of Gukei's representative works.

 

Seated Jigen Daishi (Priest Tenkai)
By Kō’on, Edo period, dated 1640, Rinnō-ji Temple, Tochigi (Important Cultural Property)

 

This is the oldest extant statue of the priest Tenkai. Tenkai restored Enryaku-ji temple during the Edo period (1603–1868) and he guided the Tendai school to prosperity while serving under the first three Tokugawa shoguns. The statue was made by the renowned Buddhist sculptor Kō’on three years before Tenkai’s death. It is marked by an outstanding sense of realism.

 

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General Information

Period October 12–November 21, 2021
Venue Heiseikan, Tokyo National Museum (Ueno Park)
Hours 9:30–17:00
Closed Mondays
Admission

Reservation tickets
Adults: ¥2,200 (¥2,100)
University students: ¥1,400 (¥1,300)
High school students: ¥1,000 (¥900)
Junior high school students and under: Free

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Prices in parentheses indicate discount ticket prices for advance purchase.

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All visitors must make an online reservation. Museum members and other pass holders along with visitors with disabilities who are eligible for free admission must also make an online reservation.
A limited number of tickets for same-day viewing are also available for purchase at the exhibition venue without a reservation. However, they may be sold out at the time of your visit.

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Persons with disabilities are admitted free with one accompanying person each (please present an ID at the ticket booth).

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Special exhibition tickets are package tickets that include admission to the regular exhibitions on the date of entry. Regular Exhibitions do not require an advance reservation to enter. However, the number of visitors allowed inside the building at the same time is restricted.

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four seasons | nogizaka46 (September 4–November 28, 2021), requires a separate reservation and admission fee.

Access 10 minutes' walk from JR Ueno Station (Park exit) and Uguisudani Station
15 minutes' walk from Keisei Ueno Station, Tokyo Metro Ueno Station and Tokyo Metro Nezu Station
Organizers Tokyo National Museum, Tendai Buddhist Denomination, Enryaku-ji Temple, The Yomiuri Shimbun, Agency for Cultural Affairs
With the Special
Sponsorship of
Canon Inc., East Japan Railway Company, JAPAN TOBACCO INC., Mitsui Fudosan Co., Ltd., MITSUBISHI ESTATE CO., LTD., Meiji Holdings Co., Ltd.
With the Sponsorship of SHIMIZU CORPORATION, Takashimaya Co., Ltd., TAKENAKA CORPORATION, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, Mitsubishi Corporation
With the Special
Support of
Onjō-ji Temple (Mii-dera), Saikyō-ji Temple, Shitennō-ji Temple, Sensō-ji Temple, Hiyoshitaisha Shrine
With the Support of Nissha Co., Ltd.
Catalog The exhibition catalog (3,000 yen) is available at the Heiseikan Special Exhibition Shop and at the museum shop in Honkan (Japanese Gallery).
General Inquiries 050-5541-8600 (Hello Dial)
Exhibition Website https://tsumugu.yomiuri.co.jp/saicho2021-2022/english.html

 

 

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