|Home >"Nippon(=Japan)"- the Land of Carved Statues.|
Since ancient times, our nation has held the belief that everything contains its own deity.
Since the introduction of Buddhism and Buddhist art in 6th century Japan, we regarded the Buddha as a deity, and started to express our beliefs in sculpture. During the next 1500 years, many statues were made - the exact number is unknown. Although many of them were destroyed in times of civil war, it is possible that several million images still exist - equivalent to the population of a small country.
Most of these sculptures are of carved wood, with decorations varying from lacquer, gold leaf, pigments, and quartz to elaborately engraved metal. Even though these wooden images are not really suited to the climate of the Japanese islands with its extremes of temperature and humidity, they are not just considered as inanimate objects, but have been cherished and cared for just as children are - to be passed on from generation to generation. Images have survived for centuries and even for a thousand years, inherited by 77 thousand Buddhist temples - large and small - all over Japan, and also in Shinto temples and private houses. It could be said that these carved images are the hidden "Spiritual Citizens" of Japan.
Nippon" is a country of carved images, the elaborate traditional techniques and sensibilities being inherited as a foundation to the whole range of our culture, not only in the modern pioneering industries, but also in the subcultures such as animations and character dolls.
Surprisingly, these images have not always existed in peaceful stability. When Japan accepted Western civilization in 1868, only 150 years ago, Japanese culture was changed dramatically, and the familiar "Spiritual Citizens" were put at serious risk of destruction.
By order of the new government, more than half of the Buddhist temples were amalgamated, and of the many, now homeless, "refugee" Buddhist images, a large number were destroyed or burnt- some lucky ones became "guest Buddhas" of other temples, and many others were taken abroad.
Those remaining were not properly maintained, merely surviving, with the care and protection of a few good people.
30 years later, that turbulent period began to settle, and the authorities started a selective programme of conservation - with a system of designated cultural assets including the newly established concept of "Buddhist Images". Until then, some had been restored and conserved by the efforts of local groups of people, but that work was makeshift, and not properly considered for the long term. It was only fairly recently that there was a comprehensive programme of revival for the Buddhist temples - a whole new attitude to the cultural landscape after the defeat of Japan in World War 2.
The Buddhist statues began to be given proper consideration after a long chaotic century, but still only limited numbers benefitted - in the same way that many people still lack proper medical care and treatment. Under the pressures of globalization, indigenous traditional cultures in every country are in crisis, and huge efforts and financial supports are essential to preserve them. The future position of these images is equally uncertain.
Kibi Conservation Studio is dealing with the conservation and restoration of the "hidden citizens" of Japan - Buddhist images - to save for the future as many of them as we can, just as local hospitals and doctors are treating the people. NEXT＞Profile of Kibi Conservation Studio