Japan’s iconographical material covers Buddhism, Shintoism and a few other smaller sects in that country. Yet, Buddhist iconography sculptural and in painting constitutes by far the greatest in number and variety. In that, however, sculptural art occupies the most part. Further, again, wood sculpture in that land of wood-yielding vegetation, forms the greater measure of iconographic material. In fact, Japan is not so fortunate in the availability of stone that can stand fine chiselling or carving, as China and India. With this background it is but reasonably justified that specialistic study of stone sculpture in icons and other subjects is undertaken and brought to the notice of scholars and the lay public. In doing so, the available stone material: early artefacts, religious icons and other subjects have been presented here in eight Sections and a Map. The Sections deal with Early Artefacts, Decorative Sculptures, Lanterns, Pagodas, Engravings, Buddha Images, Images of the Buddhist Pantheon and Biku, Bikuni & Rakans.
The approach followed is one of stating briefly the historical periods to which they belong, the styles adopted and the environment in which they were produced and placed. Each one of the pieces discussed is illustrated, barring only a few.
The over-all survey made of the sculptures of the Buddha and the Buddhist pantheon in stone in Japan is a unique contribution to the study of Buddhist iconography in general and that in Japan in particular.
A renowned scholar in East Asian art in addition to his contribution to the study of all branches of Indian art, Professor AK. Bhattacharyya has made a mark as an art-historian since long. His other interests include epigraphy and numismatics in which he has well- known publications. One of his works on Aspects of Perso-Arabic Epigraphy of India has earned worldwide commendation. His visits to Japan four times since 1968 and upto 1980, include a stay for a year in that country on a Japan Foundation Fellowship which he utilised in visiting almost all places of Buddhist interest, studying temples and sculptures. He took special care to study the stone sculptures in the southernmost island, Kyishi, by personal visits to the caverns and the rock- cut images in the Oita Prefecture and a few other places.
Back from the study-tours in the Republic of China and Japan, Professor Bhattacharyya was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Fellowship for his wide range of contribution to the study of the art of India and abroad.
Among his works, A Corpus of Dedicatory Inscriptions from Temples of West Bengal; A Pageant of Indian Culture—An & Archaeology, Historical, Culture and Political Aspects of Perso-Arabic Epigraphy of India; Development of Buddhist Iconography in China, Korea and Japan from Indian Concepts; Buddhist Stone Sculpture o4Japan; Thai Buddhist Iconography— stand out as Monumental. He was awarded PRS of the Calcutta University on his dissertation: Studies in Jaina Iconography.
Academically he has the most distinguished records and his linguistic equipment is the most unique in India, being a graduate in Arabic, and B.A. (Hons.) and M.A. in Sanskrit with a First Class. He also scured the first class position in MA, in Islamic History and Culture with Epigraphy and Numismatics as special subjects.
He held important positions in India throughout his career. After being a Lecturer and Principal of Colleges for the first eight years of his service career, he served as Asstt. Curator, Archaeological Survey, Deputy Keeper and Keeper of Art Deptt. at the National Museum, New Delhi, Superintending Archaeologist in charge of the Museums Branch of the Archaeological Survey of India, and finally as Director, Indian Museum, Calcutta. On retirement, he sewed the National University in the Republic of China as Visiting Professor.
It is a common belief that the Japanese Buddhist icons are mostly made of wood or dry lacquer. If it is true because of the reason that Japan is a largely vegetational country with abundance of wood available specially of the kind that suffers workings on it by the chisel, it is equally true that the availability of lacquer from wood-forests is also responsible for its use extensively as the material for making images. The other material largely used in making images and other objects, religious or otherwise, is bronze. Sadly, however, Japan is not fortunate enough to have suitable stone for carving figures and other forms, as are China and India. The situation being so, it is interesting to lay bare before researchers and the common readers the wealth, however small comparatively, of images and other creations of art in stone which, it must be remembered, are of several varieties and compositions in Japan. Of these, granite provides, though in restricted instances, the best in quality. The Gyokaigan variety is soft, porous and fibrous, though it supplies the material for majority of sculptures in stone, while sandstone is also used in a limited number of instances. A variety known as ash-stone is also used for making images and allied objects. This is also a form of hardened igneous rock.
The examples available and studied here, though not widely distributed in area, are very much difficult of access. It is this situation that has rendered the study quite hazardous, and had kept these examples widely unknown to both lay people and inquisitive scholars.
My visits to Japan in 1968, 1973 on deputation by the Govt. of India to attend two International Conferences heki in Tokyo, one for Fine Arts Experts and the other on Modernization of Museums in Asia, followed by the award of a Japan Foundation Fellowship, in 1976—77, for a year, extended by another two months, to study Japanese Buddhist Iconography, provided me a great opportunity to study the subject on-the-spot by visits to almost all important sites, affording close study of most of the iconic and other relevant material in stone.
Having written a book on the Development of East Asian Buddhist Iconography, from Indian Concepts to Japan following the routes through
China and Korea, and published it, I felt it worthwhile writing on the Stone Sculptures of Japan in an exclusive way incorporating much of the material not touched upon in the developmental study. The present work is the fruit of that endeavour. A number of examples cited in the present work are reproduced in the original colour which would prove that some of the stone sculptures in Japan had also limited colour decorations on them. On the whole, the work produced is meant to be some sort of a conspectus of stone sculptures of Japan and not claimed to be an exhaustive treatise by any measure.
In writing this book, I was fortunate in getting ungrudging help in the matter of explaining Japanese texts from Sri Salil Mitra, Lake Gardens, who as an established scholar in Japanese had been invited to Japan to attend an International Meet sponsored by the Japan Foundation. In the matter of procuring photo-illustrations, I readily received hearty response from the museums and other sources in Japan to whom all I offer my grateful thanks.
I record here, most of all, my deep indebtedness to the Late Professor Hajime Nakamura whose recent demise has left a void in the Indo-Japanese cultural bonds fostered by that great savant for more than forty years. He made my studies in Japan possible in all feasible ways. The Late Rev. Taien Tsujimura, Ms. Takako Uchida, and later, Taihan Tsujimura, all of Gangoji, Nara, Dr. (Mrs.) Akiko Murakata, late of the Kyoto National Museum, Ms. Takako Kato of the International House of Japan, are some of those that deserve grateful mention here as having helped me in visiting distant areas of Buddhist iconographic interest in Japan and explaining the background of some of the Buddhist icons and temples of that country.
I must end this with a word of hearty thanks to Sri Shakti Malik, Proprietor, Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, for encouraging me to write this book and readily taking it up for publication.
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