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Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha (Jizo Bosatsu)
Kamakura period, 1223-1226
Cypress wood with cut gold leaf and traces of pigment; staff with metal attachments
H. 22 3/4 in.

Buddhism was introduced into Japan by a mission from the Korean Kingdom of Paekche in the 6th century C. E., nearly 1,000 years after its beginnings in India. By this time, many schools of Buddhism had emerged. It was primarily the Mahayana type, with its many Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, that took root in Japan. The establishment of Buddhism affected the whole fabric of Japanese culture. A writing system using Chinese characters was introduced, since rituals required the reading and reciting of Buddhist texts. Temples and images were needed. The Japanese learned the technologies and iconographies for creating such images from Chinese and Korean models.

The Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha, known in Japan as Jizo Bosatsu, is the Bodhisattva of the Earth Womb. In the Buddhist worldview time is seen as cyclical. Death is succeeded by rebirth until a being attains release from this cycle through the Buddha's teachings. Successive lives may take place in any one of six worlds, depending upon one's acts in one's previous life or lives. One of the worlds to which a being might be sent is one of the hells. Jizo is a savior bodhisattva, who guides the faithful and helps those in hell. In Japan, he is also worshiped as the protector of women, children, and travelers. Stone statues of the bodhisattva are often placed at crossroads.

How to look at this work
Jizo is depicted as a Buddhist monk with a shaven head. He can never be mistaken for the Buddha because of this and the fact that he has neither snail-shell curls nor a cranial bump (ushnisha).

The monk's staff, held in his right hand, is used to open the doors of hell. The little rings hanging from the top make a clinking sound when the staff is tapped on the ground to warn even the smallest insects so they may escape and not be crushed under foot.

In his left hand, he holds a jewel of wisdom that grants all wishes. Jizo carries this jewel to infernal realms to illuminate the darkness and ease the suffering of those who dwell there.

Jizo is dressed in the robes of a Japanese Buddhist monk. He wears a vest over a long shirtlike garment with a shawl wrapped around the upper part of his body.

The mark on his forehead, urna, refers to his supernatural wisdom. He stands on a lotus, a Buddhist symbol of all that is pure on earth.

This sculpture was probably made to be placed in the Kofukuji temple in Nara, Japan, for the veneration of the Bodhisattva Kshitigarbha. When it was repaired in the 1960s, an inscription was discovered in the hollow interior of the body that provided the names of the sculptor who made the piece.

How this object was made
This statue was carved of Japanese cypress wood using the joined woodblock technique of construction that was developed in the 11th century. The image is composed of different parts -such as the head, feet, hands, and the torso-which were carved from separate pieces of wood. The head and torso were hollowed out and then the pieces were assembled. The surface was lacquered, painted, and decorated with pieces of cut gold leaf.

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