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13th-14th century Japanese hanging scroll painting of Jizô Bosatsu.

Brief Description Edit

This Kamakura period (1192-1333 CE) hanging scroll portrays Jizô Bosatsu, a Buddhist Bodhisattva who is the protector of women giving birth, children, warriors, and travelers. This scroll would have been hung by an alter or in a temple for worship [Fischer, 1984, 9]. It is 117 cm x 50.5 cm and made of silk. It currently hangs in the Museum für Asiatische Kunst (Asian Art Museum) in Berlin.

Technical Evaluation Edit

In a hanging scroll the painting is surrounded by narrow bands of contrasting silk called the "teeth". A wider silk border encompasses the work, the upper portions are known as "heaven", while the lower portions are known as "earth" [Grove Art Online, "Scroll" ]. This picture was painted on silk which was introduced to the Japanese around the 2nd century AD. No silk looms remain from 6th-16th centuries, however a loom does appear in a painting called The Taima mandara engi that dates back to the 13th century [Grove Art Online, "Japan"].
Hanging scroll design

The structure of a hanging scroll.

Depicted is a wooden frame with shed separator placed seven-eighths of the way up and string heddles suspended in front of the shed separator from rigged levers. According to the scroll, the maṇḍala was done in tapestry weave, for which the loom with its anchored breast beam (the breast beam on a backstrap loom is tied to the weaver’s waist) and simple heddle system would be most suitable [Grove Art Online, "Japan"].
According to Dr. Felice Fischer, "The iconography of Jizô as developed during the Kamakura period reflects his special mission as savior and protector, for he is represented as a figure that is at once both essentially divine yet humanized" [Fischer, 1984, 9]. The priest or artist who painted this had a very strict set of rules to follow when making this painting. By following these strict rules the artist would have shown both his religious ardor and his artistic prowess. The act of painting a religious icon such as Jizô Bosatsu was considered an act of devotion. In the painting, Jizô sits on a lotus throne that is accented with gold leaves with his left foot resting on an open blossom while his right leg is crossed in front of him. He holds a staff in his right hand that was carried by mendicant priests when they were begging in order to announce their presence, because they were observing a vow of silence. The double golden behind him "creates an aura of the supernatural." The six rings at the top of the staff represent each of the six different Realms of Existence that Jizô can intervene and help the unsaved [Fischer, 1984, 9].

Local Historical Context Edit

The beginning of the Kamakura period was also the beginning of a warrior style government that would last for almost seven hundred years [Mass, 1982, 3]. The Kamakura era is named for the town were Minamoto Yoritomo set up his bakufu ,or tent government, that ruled militarily and ran parallel with the government that was headed by the emperor in the city of Kyoto. It was in this fashion that the institution of the Shogunate came to be in Japan during this time period [Ogleby].

While the political structure of Japan was undergoing significant change, the religion of Buddhism in Japan was also change. A few popular sects of Buddhism arose during this time that are now commonly referred to as "Kamakura New Buddhism." The defining aspect of these new forms of Buddhism was that they were egregious orders for the individual that formed doctrines apart from the ruling classes and the aristocrats [Matsuo, 1997, 181]. Encyclopedia Britanica says that these three new faiths were Pure land, Shin, and Nichirin. The other big sect of Buddhism that gained popularity during this time was Zen Buddhism which was especially popular among the warrior classes.

The subject of this particular painting was an icon in the Pure Land sect of Buddhism. The Encyclopedia Britannica says that, "Pure Land schools believe that rebirth in Amitabha’s Western Paradise,Sukhavati, known as the Pure Land, or Pure Realm, is ensured for all those who invoke Amitabha’s name with sincere devotion." The Pure Land sect formed in Japan around the 12th or 13th century when it broke away from the Tendai school. This split was largely due to the founder of the Japanese Pure Land Sect, Hōnen, who believed that most people, including him, could not attain buddhahood through there own efforts [Encyclopedia Britannica].

Jizô Bosatsu was, and still is, a popular Bodhisattva in Japan. One reason for this is that he would save anybody, even the worst sinners. He would do this even if they made no effort to relate to him. This is one reason for his rise to prominence [Dykstra 1978, 187]. On top of that, "The purpose of the devotees in the Kamakura period who relied on the absolute mercy of Jizo appears to have often been secular and mundane and not unlike that of previous periods. So great was the desire for long life and prosperity that a spurious sutra called the Emmei Jizokyo, promising longevity through the virtue of Jizô, appeared in Japan" [Dykstra 1978,187]. During this time period many statues and other images were made of Jizô, most of them made for the purpose of fulfilling various wishes, such as gaining wealth or prosperity or recovering from disease. This compassion caused Jizô to be viewed as a scapegoat. Often stories told of how he would take and carry burdens from people in order to help them [Dykstra 1978, 187].

World Historical Context Edit

By the Kamakura period in Japan, Buddhism has a very strong presence in Japan having transferred there through a long process that started in India. Jizô Bosatsu even has roots leading back to India. According to Yoshiko Dykstra, "Jizo is regarded as being derived from Prthivi, an Indian goddess who personified the earth. How and when this concept was introduced into China is not known" [Dykstra 1978, 179]. From China the concept of Jizô Bosatsu was transferred to Japan, where it further developed [Dykstra 1978,179]. This spread of the idea of Jizô Bosatsu is just one element of the transfer of Pure Land ideas from India to Japan. The Pure Land Sutras were written during the 2nd century CE in India. In them "Amitabha vowed to save all sentient beings by granting them rebirth in his realm... Salvation could be attained by invoking the name of Amitabha with absolute faith in his grace and the efficacy of his vow" [Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia]. The ideas spread to China through the Silk Road by the end of the 3rd century, and the first official chinese sect appeared in 402 CE and was founded by Hui-Yuan. The Pure Land Ideas then spread to Japan, however they took another 800 years to do so. The first sect formed around 1200 CE and was led by Hōnen [ Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia].

Bibliography Edit

Dykstra, Yoshiko. "Jizo, the Most Merciful. Tales from Jizo Bosatsu Reigenki." Monumenta Nipponica 33, no. 2 (1978): 179-200. Accessed April 20, 2015.

Fischer, Felice. "Seated Jizō, C. 1300." Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin 80, no. 343/344 (Summer-Autumn, 1984): 9-11.

Kenji, Matsuo. "What Is Kamakura New Buddhism?: Official Monks and Reclusive Monks."Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 24, no. 1/2 (1997): 179-89. Accessed April 16, 2015.

Mass, Jeffrey P. Court and Bakufu in Japan: Essays in Kamakura History. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1982.

Mass, Jeffrey P. Warrior Government in Early Medieval Japan: A Study of the Kamakura Bakufu, Shugo and Jitō. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1974.

Ogleby, Jason. "Kamakura Era." Kamakura Period (September 2007): 1. History Reference Center, EBSCOhost (accessed April 16, 2015).

Amy McNair, et al. "Scroll." Grove Art OnlineOxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessedApril 15, 2015,

Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. "Japan", accessed April 20, 2015,

Encyclopædia Britannica Online, s. v. "Pure Land Buddhism", accessed April 20, 2015,

"Pure Land Buddhism." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. 2014. (April 20, 2015).

Richard Louis Edmonds, et al. "Japan." Grove Art OnlineOxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed April 15, 2015,