Thank you very much for that very kind introduction; my name is YABUUCHI Satoshi. I am a professor in the Preservation of Cultural Properties Division of the Tokyo University of the Arts where I teach the techniques and materials employed in wooden sculpture as well as restoration techniques for cultural properties, focusing mainly on Buddhist statues, and I am also a sculptor in my own right. The pictures you can see are some of my art works that was created using virtually the same techniques and materials that were employed in Japan over one thousand years ago to produce Buddhist statues. These works embody the Japanese people’s view of nature and the Buddhist worldview. From this it can be seen that my art work as a sculptor derives from my studies and experience in restoring old Buddhist statues. My main themes are ‘the soul and body’—the body is a form of armor or mask that is worn by the soul, and I express the soul through childlike images I call d?ji, like the boys you can see in the pictures. These d?ji represent what is known in Japanese as ‘tamashii’, in Chinese, ‘qi’ and in English, ‘spirit or soul’, it can also be taken to mean ‘vital energy’.
Buddhist art accounts for the bulk of Japanese tangible cultural properties—the majority of buildings classified as important cultural properties or national treasures are Buddhist temples and many of the paintings are Buddhist images. A lot of the artifacts are ritual Buddhist implements and ninety percent of the statues are connected with Buddhism. As a result, nearly all the cultural property sculptures studied in our laboratory are wooden Buddhist statues.
Before I start to talk about the restoration of cultural properties, I would like to give a brief explanation of Buddhism.
Up until approximately two thousand six hundred years ago, Indian society was organized according to a strict caste system established by the ethnic religion of Brahmanism, then Siddhartha Gautama was born and developed Buddhism as the antithesis of Brahmanism. Having been born a prince of a Kshatriya family Siddhartha lived a life of luxury, however, he questioned the unfairness of the caste system and questioned why people should suffer in wars illness and senility, so he began his search for a way by which people could escape pain and live in happiness. As rich Indians did at a certain age, he left the caste system behind to travel the country as a mendicant priest. He studied philosophy and religion under numerous gurus, practiced a form of asceticism that was later to develop into yoga and experienced physical pain as he contemplated the fundamental structure that gives rise to various ‘phenomena’. Finally, through meditation and intuition he arrived at the Fundamental Law, which he called ‘Dharma’, that controlled this world. He then spent the next forty-five years traveling with his disciples, preaching equality and peace, gaining numerous supporters and believers, until he left this world at the age of eighty.
After Siddhartha’s death, the warring states of India were unified by the Emperor A?oka who embraced Buddhism and under his patronage, it spread throughout the country, even surpassing Brahmanism. Eventually, it spread to the Iranian plateau and Central Asia, absorbing various local religions and doctrines as it developed still further to become the extremely complicated philosophic system known as M?h?yana Buddhism. From there it was transmitted along the Silk Road to China, where a large number of Buddhist scriptures were translated into Chinese during the Sui and Tang dynasties, from the sixth to tenth centuries, and it spread to cover the whole of East Asia. At the same time, Therav?da Buddhism, that preached the teachings of Siddhartha as preserved in the P?li Canon, was transmitted via Southern India or Sri Lanka to spread across South-East Asia, creating the Theravada Buddhist sphere that remains to this day.
The Japanese Spiritual World
I would now like to talk about religious background of Japan. The ‘J?mon Period’ is the earliest period in Japanese history and dates back several tens of thousands of years to what world history refers to as the neolithic period. During this time the Japanese archipelago was cut off from the continent, and it is believed that its rich natural resources and temperate climate permitted the aboriginal hunter-gatherer inhabitants to achieve a considerable degree of sedentism, living in peace for a period of about fifteen thousand years. They are thought to have cultivated nut-bearing deciduous trees, such as chestnut and beech, over many generations, harvesting these to create a unique form of sedentary society. Pots for cooking nuts, etcetera, highly decorated earthenware vessels, and clay figurines dating from this period that are thought to have had religious significance, have been unearthed in large numbers. The people also carried out hunting in the mountains and fishing in the seas. They possessed a primitive religion, believing that gods inhabited everything in nature plus various natural phenomena. They believed that the sun, rain, wind and thunder, as well as the mountains, rivers or trees all possessed a godlike or spiritual nature, and held these in awe and respect together with the spirits of their ancestors. Later, the global cooling of the climate led to an increase in the movement of various continental races southwards, with people from both China and Korea crossing to Japan where they established a civilization, centered in the western part of the country, that was based on rice cultivation and metal tools. This culture is known as the Yayoi and later immigrants from China brought with them early forms of Taoism, Buddhism, etcetera. These people interbred with the aboriginal races and later developed the Kofun culture, which is named after the huge tumuli they built.
During the sixth century, the Buddhism that flourished in the Jiangnan district of China was transmitted to Japan via the Baekje Kingdom of southern Korea. The eighth century saw the establishment of Buddhism as the national religion, based on the Kegon sect, which worships the Birushana Buddha, it spread throughout the country and numerous temples were constructed. In around the ninth century the honji-suijaku theory was established, proposing the syncretism of traditional Shint? religion and Buddhism. This combination of animism and Buddhism incorporated an outlook on nature that remained unchanged since the J?mon period and it can be said that it still retains a powerful influence on contemporary Japanese beliefs concerning life, death and behavior patterns.
Christianity believes that nature comes third, after God and humanity, but in addition to treating the souls of their ancestors and all beings with great respect, the Japanese also believe that people are a part of nature and that the whole of nature, including mountains, rivers, trees, and animals, possess spirits. This belief is thought to be a combination of the animism of the J?mon period with the philosophy of Mahayana Buddhism that preaches the ‘Buddha-nature’ of all things, including mountains, rivers, plants and trees etc. As a result, a lot of Japanese feel a strong affinity with Celtic myths or the view of nature that was held by the Native Americans.
Defeat in the Second World War led to the abandonment of all the forms of religion and social systems that had accumulated over a period in excess of one thousand years. Ever since, Japan has devoted itself to economic development based on American-style capitalism and pragmatism, transforming itself from one of the world’s poorest countries into one of its richest. Unlike South Korea, where the strong American influence during the postwar years led to the rapid spread and establishment of Christianity, it made little headway in occupied Japan and this may be a manifestation of the Japanese people’s spirituality.
Witnessing the fruits of modern civilization that they had worked so assiduously to attain after the war, swept away by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and its ensuing tsunami, the Japanese people regretted their lack of religion and single-minded devotion to economic success. Their awe of nature has been renewed and they have rediscovered the worldview that had existed since the J?mon period.
Living Tradition and Disinterred Tradition
It can be said that every time there was a coup d’etat or a dynasty was overthrown on the continent, Japan provided a refuge for those who had led the politics or culture of the previous regime. During the fifteen hundred years since Buddhism was first transmitted to Japan during the sixth century, every time there was a major political or religious upheaval on the continent, it resulted in a new form of Buddhism being introduced to the country. One result of this was that various forms of culture and religion that disappeared on the continent during this time have been adapted to suit the Japanese and continue to be practiced. For instance, the title of the Japanese head of state, the Emperor, is ‘Tenn?’ in Japanese and this is derived from the ancient Taoist name for the pole star, which is ‘Tenn? Taitei’. Of the three gods who rule heaven and earth, ‘the Heavenly Emperor, the Earthly Emperor and the Human Emperor’, Tenn? is the god of the heavens. This term was not originally applied to human rulers but I think that it is likely that it was first used in Japan in reference to myth that the Emperors were descended from the goddess Amaterasu-?mikami, who ruled the heavens, and this usage has continued to the present day. The origins of the Imperial lineage, which has continued for one hundred and twenty-five generations since age of myths, is not clear but it is thought to have been established in around the fifth century. Since then, succession has not always been carried out in an orderly fashion, but as a system there have been no dynastic changes and the country is unusual in that it has succeeded in becoming a modern state without the revolutions or civil wars experienced by so many other developed nations. There were various political reasons why the head of state, Emperor Hirohito was not held responsible for the war after defeat in 1945, but it remains symbolic of the peculiarities of the Japan nation.
From the above, it can be seen that one of the characteristics of Japanese culture is the transmission of ‘old things’ from generation to generation and these ‘old things’ can be either objects or facts. A Chinese government official who witnessed the funeral of Emperor Hirohito and the enthronement of the present Emperor is said to have remarked in amazement, ‘Eighth century Chinese ceremonies are still practiced in Japan.’ Esoteric Buddhism, that was born in India over two thousand years ago and later thrived in China, fell victim to various anti-Buddhism movements, resulting in its complete disappearance from China and Korea, but today, twelve hundred years later, it still remains one of the leading types of Buddhism in Japan. The concept of preserving important cultural assets first started in Western Europe, but concentrated mainly on ‘tangible cultural properties’ and the idea of preserving ‘cultural information’ as ‘intangible cultural properties’ is one that originated in Japan. This was a result of its tradition of transmitting ‘old things’ from generation to generation and first person to think of preserving and promoting these ‘intangible cultural properties’, that is to say, supporting people who possess certain skills, was a man named OKAKURA Tenshin.
OKAKURA Tenshin and Ernest Fenollosa
During the mid-nineteenth century, the Great Western Powers of Britain, France, Russia and the U.S.A. had colonized India, China and most of South-east Asia. Next they turned their eyes upon Japan, where contact with the outside world was largely banned, encouraging it to open its borders. The family of the great general, TOKUGAWA Ieyasu, had ruled Japan at the Emperor’s command since the beginning of the seventeenth century, but in order to avoid the breakup or colonization of the country, it handed power back to the Emperor and the country underwent a period of rapid modernization under Imperial rule. This is known as the Meiji Restoration. One of the policies of the new government was to restore the ancient Shint? religion that had become subordinate to Buddhism as a result of the syncretism of Shint? and Buddhism. However, there were those among the population who took this too far, attacking Buddhist temples and destroying Buddhist statues and ritual implements. However, the government managed to stop the destruction of Buddhism after only three years, working rapidly to preserve historical and cultural assets, passing laws and making this a national policy, so it could have been much worse.
One person who stood out in the movement to preserve the nation’s cultural heritage during the nineteenth century was OKAKURA Tenshin. He was an official from the Ministry of Education, an art historian and philosopher. Born in the open port of Yokohama shortly before the Meiji Restoration, the son of a samurai from the Fukui Domain, Tenshin studied the Chinese classics and English from an early age and graduated from the Kaisei School, which later became Tokyo University. While he was in the school, he became acquainted with an American professor, Ernest Fenollosa, who taught him the importance of a modern nation to possess a national identity based on history and culture. While working with him to create a record of the Buddhist statues and ritual implements that had been destroyed by the anti-Buddhist movement, he realized how outstanding Buddhist art and traditional crafts were, awakening to the need to protect them and after entering the Ministry of Education he devoted himself to the establishment of the Tokyo National Museum and the Tokyo School of Fine Art. He also worked to promote the production of export goods to provide employment for the artisans who had lost the sponsorship of the powerful samurai families and temples as a result of the Imperial Restoration. I think it is worth pointing out that the exquisitely detailed art-craft works that were exported to Europe at this time formed a major part of the Japonisme movement. It was a result of his efforts that today, craft works employing techniques dating back hundreds of years are still being produced alongside contemporary craft works that are manufactured using modern technology.
Furthermore, the principles established by OKAKURA Tenshin for the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, the forerunner of the Tokyo University of the Arts, have been passed down to the present day and form the basis of our Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Properties studies.
This is as far as I have prepared my English speech. From here on I will give a talk using a PowerPoint presentation and speaking in Japanese that will be translated by my capable interpreter.
I am afraid that this introduction has been rather long, but I would now like to talk about our activities in more detail.