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The 1400th Memorial for Prince Shōtoku
Prince Shōtoku and Treasures of Early Buddhist Faith in Japan

  • Image of ""Prince Shōtoku" from Prince Shōtoku and Attendants, Heian period, 1121 (Hōan 2), Hōryūji Temple, Nara (National Treasure)"

    "Prince Shōtoku" from Prince Shōtoku and Attendants, Heian period, 1121 (Hōan 2), Hōryūji Temple, Nara (National Treasure)

    Japanese Archaeology and Special Exhibition (Heiseikan) Special Exhibition Galleries
    July 13, 2021 (Tue) - September 5, 2021 (Sun)

    Hōryūji Temple is said to have been founded in 607 (Suiko 15) by Empress Suiko (554–628) and Prince Shōtoku (574–622) in what is now Nara Prefecture. Prince Shōtoku earnestly sought after Buddhist truths and built the foundation for the future of Japanese culture. His achievements include establishing a system of twelve courtly ranks and promulgating a set of ethical mores that came to be known as the "Seventeen Article Constitution." After his death, Prince Shōtoku was semi-deified and gained an active religious following. The figure of Prince Shōtoku that we inherit today is this coalescence of history, mythology, and faith.

    The year 2021 marks the 1,400th anniversary of Prince Shōtoku's passing, and this exhibition is held to commemorate this occasion. Visitors will have the opportunity to learn of Prince Shōtoku's accomplishments as they take in the beauty of the many treasures passed down at the temple he founded.

    List of Works  (576KB)

    Highlights of the Exhibition

    General Information


Highlights of the Exhibition


Prince Shōtoku and the Flowering of the Buddha Dharma

The Chronicles of Japan (Nihon Shoki, 720) and other sources tell us that Buddhism was officially transmitted to the Japanese archipelago from the Korean kingdom of Baekje, either in 538 or 552, during the reign of Prince Shōtoku’s (574–622) grandfather Emperor Kinmei (509–571; r. 539?–571?).

The early reception of Buddhism in Japan engendered great unrest, at the center of which was a conflict between the pro-Buddhist Soga clan and the anti-Buddhist Mononobe clan. As Shōtoku rose to the position of Prince Regnant, the impact of his patronage expanded with his ascendant political power. Buddhism became increasingly enmeshed at court and within elite society.

In this section, we delve into the earliest period of Japanese Buddhism, focusing on Shōtoku’s scriptural commentary to rediscover the historical figure of the prince, here contextualized in the material culture of his world.


Standing Bodhisattva
Asuka period, 7th century, Hōryūji Temple, Nara (Important Cultural Property)


The Establishment of Hōryūji Temple

Prince Shōtoku (574–622) established the temple Ikarugadera, which would become Hōryūji Temple, to the west of his Ikaruga Palace residence in 607. That same year, Shōtoku dispatched Ono no Imoko (dates unknown) to China as an envoy to the Sui dynasty (581−618). The construction of Hōryūji took place in the midst of a major historical turning point that began with Shōtoku’s 603 reorganization of court ranks into twelve tiers in accordance with continental models. The temple’s name evokes the capital’s transformation into a Buddhist land: “Hōryū” abbreviates “Buppō kōryū,” a phrase that declares the expansion of the flourishing Buddhist Dharma.

In this section, we present an exquisite collection of Buddhist implements and other ritual objects as we introduce the magnificent Buddhist adornments of Hōryūji.

The Land of Heavenly Longevity (Tenjukoku) Embroidery
Asuka period, ca. 622 (Suiko 30), Chūgūji Temple, Nara (National Treasure)
On view during the first rotation: July 13 – August 9, 2021


Treasures of the Eastern Precinct at Hōryūji Temple

The Eastern Precinct of Hōryūji Temple is built on the grounds of the former residence of Prince Shōtoku (574–622), Ikaruga Palace. We learn from the Record of the Founding and Property Assets of the Hōryūji Eastern Precinct (On view in the second rotation) that the monk Gyōshin appealed to Imperial Princess Abe (718–770; r. 749–758 as Empress Kōken), asking to transform the ruins into the Eastern Precinct, resulting in its construction in 739.
Beginning in the Heian period, Shōtoku came to be venerated as the emanation of a Buddhist deity, and the Eastern Precinct emerged as the heart of the Shōtoku cult at Hōryūji. In this section, we turn our focus to this precinct that played such a key role in the efflorescence of faith in Shōtoku. Just beyond the Hall of Dreams, The Illustrated Biography of Prince Shōtoku and the “Homage to Buddha” Relics were enshrined in the Painting Hall (Eden) and the Relics Hall (Shariden) respectively. These objects of great sacred significance inspired ever more widespread faith in Prince Shōtoku. We will also focus on the splendorous rituals performed in the Eastern Precinct, such as the Shōryō-e, a Buddhist ceremony praising and memorializing Shōtoku’s virtues, and the Daieshiki, a ceremony conducted only once every ten years on the anniversary of his passing.

Seated Portrait of Priest Gyōshin, Second of the Sōkan Ranks
Nara period, 8th century, Hōryūji Temple, Nara (National Treasure)



The Sacred Forms of Prince Shōtoku

In the Heian period (794–1192), Shōtoku came to be understood as an emanation of the bodhisattva Kannon (Avalokiteśvara); he soon became widely known and worshipped as such. The portrait enshrined in the Shōryōin at Hōryūji, Prince Shōtoku and Attendants was created to commemorate the 500th anniversary of his death. It exemplifies this stage in Shōtoku faith, both stylistically and as one of the prince’s several iconographic depictions that reflect contemporaneous beliefs about him. The visual vocabulary for representing Shōtoku expanded to be richer and more diverse than that representing any other religious founder or patriarch in Japan, encompassing depictions of the prince at age two, at age sixteen, and at several other episodes in his life.

This section of the exhibition introduces masterworks of painting from Hōryūji and a selection of images that epitomize the enormous breadth of Shōtoku’s representations.


Seated Prince Shōtoku
Heian period, 1121 (Hōan 2) , Hōryūji Temple, Nara (National Treasure)
Filial Prince Shōtoku (Kyōyō zō)
Kamakura period, 13th century, Hōryūji Temple, Nara (Important Cultural Property)
On view during the second rotation: August 11–September 5, 2021



The Hōryūji Golden Hall and Five-Storied Pagoda

According to the Chronicles of Japan (Nihon shoki, 720), the Wakakusa Precinct established by Prince Shōtoku (574–622) burned to the ground in 670. Later, the Western Precinct (Saiin Garan) was reconstructed. The Golden Hall (Kondō) is the oldest extant wooden structure in the world, and its inner sanctum survived into the twentieth century without any major changes. On the first level of Hōryūji’s Five-Storied Pagoda (Gojūnotō), large groups of clay sculptures Nos. 194 to 207 are arranged in dioramas depicting important scriptural episodes. These works are known for their great pathos and haunting naturalism.

In this final section of the exhibition, we introduce the Golden Hall and the Five-Storied Pagoda through an array of masterworks representing the attainments of Asuka-period Buddhist art.


Seated Yakushi (Skt. Bhaiṣajyaguru)
Asuka period, 7th century, Hōryūji Temple, Nara (National Treasure)

General Information

Period July 13 – September 5, 2021
Venue Heiseikan, Tokyo National Museum (Ueno Park)
Hours 9:30–17:00
Closed Mondays (except for August 9) and August 10, on which day the rest of the Museum is open

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


Prices in parentheses indicate discount ticket prices for advance purchase.


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.


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


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.


14 Dynasties and a Region (July –February, 2022) and The same terms apply to the Sports NIPPON (July-September).
Entry to the special exhibition held in the Honkan building, Sacred Treasures from Ancient Nara: The Eleven-Headed Kannon of Shōrinji Temple (June 22-September 12, 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, Hōryūji Temple,
The Yomiuri Shimbun,
NHK, NHK Promotions Inc.,
Agency for Cultural Affairs
With the Special Sponsorship of Canon Inc., East Japan Railway Company,
Mitsui Fudosan Co., Ltd.,
Meiji Holdings Co., Ltd.
With the Sponsorship of SHIMIZU CORPORATION,
Takashimaya Co., Ltd.,
Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation,
Mitsubishi Corporation
With the Support of UCHIDA YOKO CO., LTD.,NISSHA Co., Ltd.
Catalog The exhibition catalog (2,800 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/horyuji2021/english.html