Important Cultural Property

Frontispiece of the Myohorenge-kyo Sutra


Period Heian period, 12th century
Materials and techniques Handscroll, colour on paper
Size 26.1×254.1


Myohorenge-kyo is probably the sutra most widely copied in Japan. Called Hoke-kyo for short, it was transcribed during and after the Heian period with the belief that through this virtuous ac, the transcriber could seek protection for himself and his family as well as peaceful rest for the dead. Before long people wishing for beautiful sutras, began to decorate the manuscripts with illustrations and other ornamentations. Many such decorative sutras were made in the latter Heian period, including the famous “Heike Nokyo” dedicated to Itsukushima Shrine by the Taira family and “Kunoji-kyo” long owned by Kuno-ji Temple (present Tesshu-ji Temple) in Shizuoka prefecture.
Shown here is a typical soshokukyo, or decorative sutra. On the back of the front cover is a picture of an aristocratic man and woman enjoying conversation on a verandah over looking a garden where cherry trees are in full bloom. Tree trunks, water flowing in the garden and rocks are rendered in the traditional yamato-e style, and facial features of the figures are executed in the hikime-kagihana style (a dash for the eye and a hook for the nose) as in the “Tale of Genji” paintings, displaying the aesthetic taste of the court of the latter Heian period. Paper is decorated on the front and back with pieces of gold and silver foil, with patterns of flowers and grasses added to the top and bottom edges. The text consisting of 114 lines, each with 17 letters, is solemnly transcribed between lines drawn in gold and silver.

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