Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Korea National Museum introduces Japanese Buddhist art

The essence of Japanese Buddhist art is being introduced to Korea through a special exhibition held by the National Museum of Korea in Yongsan, Seoul.

The event, titled “Japanese Buddhist Art from the Lake Biwa District — Aspiring for Rebirth in the Buddhist Paradise,” highlights the exquisite relics of the neighboring Asian country’s Buddhist art, featuring 94 artifacts. The collection includes four national treasures.

Upon entering the museum space, “Eight Views of Omi” presents the landscape of Lake Biwa, Shiga Prefecture in central Japan. It is the largest freshwater lake in Japan at about 673 square kilometers, similar to the size of Seoul. Omi is an old name for Shiga Prefecture and the painting on display has four scenic sites among the eight.

“Though Lake Biwa is an unfamiliar name for most Koreans, there is a route along the lake used by ‘tongsinsa,’ or the emissary dispatched to Japan during the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) as seen in the lower right side of this ‘Lake View’ painting from Sufuku-ji,” Ryu Seung-jin, the museum’s Asian art curator, said.

The region is close to the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto and a transportation point connecting east and west, resulting in a rich tradition of Buddhist culture and heritage.

A series of Buddhist images comes next.

“Eleven-faced Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva” from the Chofukuji Temple date back to the Heian period (794-1185). It has 11 faces on the head symbolizing benevolence and mercy.

Ryu explained that there are many Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva statues near the lake, which are closely related to its vitality. The Japanese made wooden Buddhist statues as they believed god dwells in each natural object.

The items on display also includes paintings depicting the Six Paths, or six stages of existence. All living beings are trapped in according to Honen (Pure Land) Buddhism — the realms of heavenly beings, humans, asura, animals, hungry spirits and hell.
In this exhibition, two designated Japanese national treasures from the Kamakura period (1185-1333) works are on display, along with 15 panels from Edo-era (1615-1868) reproductions.

“These paintings were drawn for educational purpose, aiming to help people break free from the cycle and to be reborn in the Pure Land,” Ryu said.

Also on display are “Lotus Sutra” engraved in gold and silver and “Gilt-bronze Scripture Case” with fancy floral medallion and arabesque design. These motifs are found in the graves of aristocrats. Relics of Japanese Esoteric Buddhism, such as “Ragaraja” from the 13th-century Sojiji Temple, depicting angry gods, are also part of the exhibition.

“Japanese Buddhist Art from the Lake Biwa District” is co-hosted by the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs, Kyushu National Museum and Shiga Prefecture. Kwak Young-jin, first vice minister of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and Seiichi Kondo, Japanese commissioner for Cultural Affairs, attended its opening Monday.

“I hope this exhibition boosts cultural exchanges between the two countries by understanding the similarities and differences of each other,” Kwak said.
The exhibition runs through Feb. 19. For more information, visit or call (02) 2077-9000.

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