Kamakura period writings discovered in Buddhist statues believed lost in fire

Courtesy of Hieizan Enryakuji
This statue, one of the juni shinsho 12 divine generals housed at Hieizan Enryakuji temple in Otsu, has been found with writings inside of it using sumi black ink.

OTSU — Hieizan Enryakuji temple announced that writings using sumi black ink were found inside eight Buddhist statues housed in its main pavilion. The writings mention a date from the latter years of the Kamakura period (late 12th century to 1333).

The pavilion, called the Konpon Chu-do, was burned down by feudal lord Oda Nobunaga during the 1571 siege of Mt. Hiei and was rebuilt during the Edo period (1603-1867). The statues were believed to have been subsequently rebuilt as well, but this latest discovery is evidence that they escaped the siege.

Konpon Chu-do of Enryakuji, the principal temple of the Tendai Buddhist sect, has been undergoing large-scale repair work since fiscal 2016. As part of the process, 14 Buddhist statues, which include statues of the 12 divine generals, were dismantled for repairs.

As a result, eight of the 14 statues were found to have writings inside that included the Imperial year that corresponds to 1332, as well as the names of a Buddhist priest and a Buddhist sculptor.

An antique document possessed by Shojuraikoji temple in Otsu, which has deep ties with Enryakuji, writes that the divine general statues were relocated from a temple in Kyoto to Enryakuji in 1447, but it was long believed that the statues were lost in the siege. Thanks to the newly discovered writings, the temple suspects that the statues were secretly taken out before the siege and eluded the destruction.

The named priest and sculptor are also said to have been involved in the construction of two Buddhist statues housed at the Shojuraikoji temple. Since those two statues are designated as important cultural assets, the value of the statues at Enryakuji temple may be reassessed.

“The statues that escaped the siege are precious. It is joyful news that their history has become apparent,” said a person affiliated with Enryakuji.

The statues will be exhibited at the Otsu City Museum of History from July 23 to Sept. 4.

Courtesy of Hieizan Enryakuji
This writing using sumi black ink contains the Imperial year that corresponds to 1332.