European Association for Japanese Studies

EAJS 2023: Religious Space

Religious Space: Power, Worship, and Image in Medieval Japan

Room 6.60, Faculty of Arts and Philosophy, Blandijnberg 2, 9000, Gent

Workshop description

The formation of medieval Japanese culture had been profoundly affected by religion, predominantly Buddhism. This phenomenon led not only to the emergence of particular forms of medieval state rulership, but also gave structure and formative dimensions to the popular religiosity, thus creating a foundation of medieval Japan’s worldview. The major factors and leading roles in these formative processes were not limited only to the Buddhist temple structures and religious founders or high-ranking clerics. Rather, the diverse religious subjects and forces had permeated and positively affected all strata of Japan’s society, creating incessantly new religious spaces and sacred objects, such as icons and symbols, which could be located at the very center of those spaces. The presentations in this workshop will introduce several thought-provoking examples of such religious spaces and sacred objects, discovered as a result of latest investigations and interpretive approaches within the field of researching Japanese religious texts and manuscripts, and will clarify the respective historical and cultural contexts of their production. A particular emphasis will be placed on the theories of embodiment, including the notions of power, icon, media, and gender, with the purpose of uncovering their mutual dynamic relationships.

10.00–10.15 Arrival of the participants, room 6.60, sixth floor, Blandijnberg 2
10.15–10.30 Welcome and introductory remarks by the local workshop organizer (Anna Andreeva, Ghent University)
10.30–12.00 Part 1: “The religious context for the production of the Shōtoku Taishi sculpture (Namu Butsu Taishi, ca. 1292) preserved at Arthur M. Sackler Museum (Harvard Art Museums).” Prof. Abe Yasurō 阿部泰郎 (Ryūkoku /Nagoya University emer.), Prof. Abe Mika 阿部美香 (Shōwa Women’s University), in Japanese.
12.00–14.00 Lunch break
14.00–15.30 Parts 2 and 3: “Religious Space, Soteriology, and Gender”
“On religious spaces created by an imperial consort in medieval Japan”
Prof. Abe Mika 阿部美香 (Shōwa Women’s University, in Japanese) “On diverse historical perceptions of Chiyono monogatari in premodern Japan”
Prof. Yoneda Mariko 米田真理子 (Tottori University, in Japanese)
Panel chair: Anna Andreeva (Ghent University)
15.30–16.00 Comments and discussion
Prof. Itō Satoshi 伊藤聡 (Ibaraki University)
Prof. Julia Cross (Stanford University, TBC)


The religious context for the production of the Shōtoku Taishi sculpture (Namu Butsu Taishi, ca. 1292) preserved at Arthur M. Sackler Museum (Harvard Art Museums).

Prof. Abe Yasurō 阿部泰郎 (Ryūkoku University/Nagoya University emeritus)
Prof. Abe Mika 阿部美香 (Shōwa Women’s University).

The worship of Prince Shōtoku, which received a wide reception during medieval times, led to an emergence of new religious imagery and multidimensional sacred spaces dedicated to this important figure. One important model for this new form of worship is the so-called “Namu Butsu Taishi” image of a two-year old Prince Shōtoku joining his hands in a prayer (gasshō) and proclaiming his praise to the Buddha (Namu Butsu). The oldest existing example of this image is a 67.9 cm tall sculpture made of Japanese cypress in 1292, the sacred object from the Jōgūōin quarters of the Horyūji Temple in Nara, which could also be called the “avatar of the Buddha-relic clenched in his fist.” It is currently preserved at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, a part of Harvard University’s Art Museums, as a partial and promised gift of Walter C. Sedgwick in memory of Ellery Sedgwick Sr. and Ellery Sedgwick Jr. (item nr. 2019.122; Prince Shōtoku at Age Two; Shōtoku Taishi Nisaizō,
This statue’s internal cavity houses diverse dedicatory objects and religious texts, which urgently require scholarly analysis and contextualisation. Recently, the joint team research of Nagoya and Harvard Universities has read, analysed, and interpreted this object in its entirety. As a result, it is now understood that this image of Prince Shōtoku had emerged in Kamakura-period Japan, against the backdrop of the religious activities, vows, and karmic connections of medieval Buddhist nuns, who were active in the vicinity of the Saidaiji cleric Eison (1201–1290), himself closely linked to the imperial court. Furthermore, the historical and cultural background and context of these links can be revealed by reading the diverse religious texts, including the Buddhist imagery and scriptures, preserved in the internal cavity of the statue. This lecture will introduce the entire object and present it in multidimensional media, including its digital images. It will reconstruct the rich world of the “Namu Butsu Taishi” statue as a unique example of religious cultural heritage, by displaying its narrative imagery, through the medieval Shōtoku Taishi legends and hand-painted illustrated scrolls.

On religious spaces created by an imperial consort in medieval Japan

Prof. Abe Mika 阿部美香 (Shōwa Women’s University)

Sen’yōmon’in (1181–1252), the sixth daughter of the retired emperor Go-Shirakawa (1127–1192), was a bearer of a mysterious experience. In her teens, she had suffered a strange ailment, when her spirit had detached itself from her body; only the prayers by her elder brother, Dharma Prince Shukaku (1150–1202) could eventually cure her. She inherited vast imperial land estates from her father, Go-Shirakawa. Bearing the title of “Nun Shingon Master” (ama shingonshi), she practiced a deep faith in esoteric Buddhism (mikkyō) and acted as an equal counterpart to the prominent esoteric monks Jōken (1162–1231) and Gyōhen (1181?–1264?). In doing so, Sen’yōmon’in had created open religious spaces where women could form the karmic bonds. The most representative of these were the Enma Hall (Enmadō) at Daigoji and the Founders’ Hall (Mieidō) at Tōji temples in Kyoto. This presentation will introduce and analyse these important examples.

On diverse historical perceptions of Chiyono monogatari in premodern Japan

Prof. Yoneda Mariko 米田真理子 (Tottori University)

The fourteenth-century fictional novel Chiyono monogatari, tells a story of a medieval woman Chiyono, who practiced Zen, and describes the process how she acquired enlightenment. Initially, this tale had a relatively complex structure, with a male monk narrator, and two stories of an old monk and Chiyono. Afterwards, the story of Chiyono began to circulate on its own, transforming into a hand-painted scroll (emaki) narrative during the fifteenth century. By the seventeenth century, there appeared individual hanging scrolls (kakejiku) depicting Chiyono. Their viewers must have known and been able to recall the medieval story as the pre-existing background to these depictions of Chiyono. Furthermore, during the Edo period, parody tales based on this story were compiled and became interwoven with the legendary records of historical nun figures, revealing a very diverse development. In this presentation, I will trace and problematize the process of this medieval tale’s historic perception and change from the medieval to early modern periods, focusing on the illustrated images linked to Chiyono monogatari.





10.00–10.15 ご参加者の到着, 第 6.60教室, 六階, Blandijnberg 2
10.15–10.30 ご開催のアドレス (アンナ・アンドレーワ、ゲント大学)
10.30–12.00 講義: パート1 「ハーバード南無仏太子像の宗教的コンテクスト」
12.00–14.00 休憩
14.00–15.30 パネル:「宗教的空間・救済・ジェンダー」
15.30–16.00 コメント・総括討論
伊藤聡 (茨城大学)


パート1 「ハーバード南無仏太子像の宗教的コンテクスト」(阿部泰郎・美香)