Politics and Art of Religious Persuasion in Medieval and Early Modern Japan
Chair: Lorinda Kiyama, Nagoya University/Stanford University
The visual arts of Japanese Buddhism are generally construed as tools produced by an educated elite for instructing laity in the means to salvation. Worshippers are active only in their roles as patrons and alms-givers. Our panel examines the validity of this paradigm from the perspectives of religious studies, art history, and literature. We combine close attention to the composition of the art forms with broad investigations of their functions--social, economic, and ideological. Three of the presentations will be complimented by slides and one by a video. Aaslid's and Carr's papers focus on medieval memorializations of Honen Shonin and Shotoku Taishi. Aaslid discusses how illustrated handscrolls of Honen's life served to legitimate once persecuted Pure Land sects. Her paper explores the symbiotic relationship between imperial and religious authority. Carr's study of Shotoku Taishi hanging scrolls spans the sectarian map of medieval Japan. It brings to light parallel processes of deifying religious figures. Carr demonstrates that the politics of lineage-building, not necessarily popular conversion, was at stake in this artistic medium. Kiyama analyzes the metamorphosis of a hell dance from Buddhist ritual to performative preaching and the noh theater. She probes constructions of medieval social hierarchy through the Buddhist template of the six paths. Grumbach carries the panel into the early modern period with an account of how Zenkoji worshippers communicated their religious experiences through donations of large-scale ema. She brings subjectivity to the faith of commoners, confirming that religious art is far more than a pedagogical tool for enlisting lay support.
1) Ive Aaslid, Stanford University: "Visual Memory and Salvation in the 48-scroll Honen Shonin Eden"
Kosoden, biographies of illustrious priests, flourished in the Kamakura period as the emerging Pure Land Buddhist sects increasingly told the life stories of their founding figures through illustrated handscrolls (emaki). These scrolls provided the new movements with legitimacy and a means to spread their doctrines among the population. The 48-scroll Honen Shonin Eden is perhaps the most ambitious such project. Commissioned by a retired emperor in 1307, it claims to be the authoritative account of the life and deeds of Honen, the early Kamakura period founder of Jodo Buddhism. Beyond simply recounting the priest's activities, the scroll functions to inspire religious devotion in its viewers. Although the text quotes Honen's teachings and writings extensively, the visual narrative provides perhaps the most concrete evidence for the merits of faith in Honen's Jodo doctrine. In an early section of the emaki, Honen is visually transformed from a human priest into a deified savior figure. Later sections show people from all walks of life achieving rebirth as a result of Honen's teachings. Through visual and narrative repetition, these scenes testify to the effectiveness of the nenbutsu doctrine, and serve as a guarantee of the viewer's own salvation. This paper examines the compositional strategies that allow the scroll to function as a salvific tool. In addition, it considers the circumstances of the emaki's commission and circulation, aiming at an understanding of how the scroll was conceived by those who created and used it.
2) Kevin Gray Carr, Princeton University/Kyushu University: "Who Is Saved by Shotoku?"
This paper examines the functions of narrative religious art in medieval Japan. Taking early fourteenth century depictions of the life of Prince Shotoku (Shotoku Taishi eden) as its primary example, it traces the significance of the development of large-scale hanging scrolls that illustrate the miraculous lives of holy figures. Three questions are fundamental to the study. First, who produced and distributed the large format works? Second, what was the intended function of this newly developed art form? Finally, how were the scrolls actually used? Art related to Shotoku was created by almost every sect in medieval Japan. Thus, its study offers a unique opportunity to examine the ritual use of similar art works across a broad spectrum of the late Kamakura world. Illustrated biographies of Shotoku evince fundamental paradigms that were employed in the process of deifying figures such as Shinran, Gyoki, and Kukai. After a close examination of the visual and textual evidence, the paper argues that a common interpretation of the large illustrated biographies as Buddhist "bibles of the illiterati" used in pictorial explanation is incomplete and potentially misleading. Although biographies such as Shotoku's were indeed a primary field of religious dialogue in medieval times, they were often not used for directly converting commoners. Rather, their primary function may have been to strengthen a sense of sectarian identity among the clergy and intelligentsia across geographically diverse regions of medieval Japan.
3) Lisa Grumbach, Stanford University: "Visions of Amida: Scenes and Stories of Popular Faith in Amida Buddha Depicted in the Oema of Zenkoji"
Ema are typically conceived of as the small picture boards offered at temples and shrines to ask for the realization of some wish or desire, but the beginning of the early modern period saw a new trend to produce large-scale ema (oema). This change in format gave birth to innovations in the artistic themes and religious purposes of ema, including reasons for donating them. Although large ema were more expensive to produce than their smaller counterparts, they were commissioned by people from diverse socio- economic backgrounds and thus provided a glimpse into the everyday customs and religiosity of Japanese people in the early modern period. Zenkoji, a temple in Nagano Prefecture, has preserved a large number of oema that depict faith in the Zenkoji Amida Nyorai. Many of these were donated by women and families, who gave the ema as offerings of gratitude to Amida for "receiving" a vision of the buddha, often accompanied by a spiritual boon. But gratitude is not the only purpose of these ema: the donors often specifically state that these are messages to other worshippers encouraging them likewise to have faith in Amida. The medium of oema thus provided lay worshippers with a new way to communicate their religious experiences to others. This paper examines issues in the development of these large-format ema and the religious experiences and messages portrayed in them.
Lorinda Kiyama, Nagoya
University / Stanford
Hell in Medieval Japan: Sources and Peregrinations
of Na'ami's Jigoku no kusemai"
Ebina no Na'amidabutsu's hell dance, Jigoku no kusemai, is a gripping passage through hell. The dance resonates with ritual portrayals of hell journeys enacted within institutional Buddhism and on its fringes by marginal preacher-artists. Penitential hell tours were indispensable to ceremonies conducted regularly from the mid-Heian period, including Nijugo zanmaishiki, Rokudo koshiki, and Butsumyoe. Representations of hell were also commonplace at funerals and at mass gatherings, such as the Seiryoji Dainenbutsue. Na'ami's Jigoku no kusemai belongs both to this world of religious practice and to the world of performing arts. Na'ami's hell dance has survived a tortured career in the noh canon. Though it earned excellent reviews as part of Kan'ami's "Sagano dainenbutsu no onna monogurui no monomane," no longer extant, Zeami omitted it in revising his father's play. The dance was saved from oblivion by grandson Motomasa, who placed it at the climax of "Utaura" (Poetry Divination). In "Utaura," the hell dance ends in possession, an oracle, renewed commitment to the Ise Watarae deity, and the reunion of son and father. The religious import of the dance is hardly diminished in its new context.
This paper examines the politics of patronage and religious persuasion. In focusing on the hell dance, it aims to open space for discussion of the social significance of hell tours and the six paths in medieval Japan.