Hidden Buddha of Rakuyaji

Hidden Buddha of Rakuyaji

Kara Goughnour

For the first time since their creation in the Heian period (794-1192), the twenty Buddhist statues that have been preserved at Rakuyaji Temple (Koka City, Shiga Prefecture) were displayed to the public at the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno in an exhibit titled The Secret Buddha of Rakuyaji. These include a ‘secret’ or ‘hidden’ Buddha, a Seated Juichimen Kannon Bosatsu (Lord of Compassion), or an eleven-headed deity statue. These ‘secret’ Buddhist statues are usually hidden behind large doors at the backs of temples and are only available for worship by monks or those in high position at the temple. Some ‘secret’ or ‘hidden’ Buddhist statues are said to even contain a ‘relic’ of Buddha himself, such as a tooth or bone, a Buddhist scripture, or even a precious stone. Though many Buddhist statues still remain in Shiga prefecture, the location of Rakuyaji Temple, it is quite impressive for one temple to contain twenty pieces known today as Important Cultural Properties of Japan. Other statues that were displayed at this exhibit include eleven other Kannon statues along with a Standing Bishamon Ten (Temple Guardian), and a Seated Jizo Bosatsu (Patron of Children and Expecting Mothers).

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Witnessing the preservation of statues carved in wood over one-thousand years ago was a breathtaking experience. With the main deity, the Seated Juichimen Kannon Bosatsu (Lord of Compassion) being over three meters tall in height, it towers over you in an awe-inspiring fashion. The expressions of its eleven human-like faces are so detailed and precise that one must wonder how something like this could ever be carved into wood with a human hand. The statues, with their gold detailing still so intact, are so well-preserved it seems that they must have been built at most one-hundred years ago. The statues at the Hidden Buddha of Rakuyaji exhibit at the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno were truly an experience that someone outside of a religious field would normally be unable to experience.

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Photo: Meredith P. on Flickr

The exhibit reopened from Monday, January 2, 2017 and ran until Monday January 9, 2017. Tickets were available for purchase only at the Main Gate of the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno. If you have missed this special exhibition please do not be disheartened. The Tokyo National Museum will be hosting other special events displaying the 'Eternal Treasures from Kasugataisha Shrine' and 'Chanoyu - The Arts of Tea Ceremony, The Essence of Japan' among many other events.

The Tokyo National Museum hours are from 9:30-17:00 respectively during weekdays, while Fridays remain open until 20:00 and Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays remain open until 18:00. Admission for adults is 1000 yen, with a discount of 300 yen for university students who possess a University Identification Card, a discount of 600 yen for high school students having their High School Identification Cards with them, and free admission for those in junior high school and below along with those with disabilities. Discounts are also provided for group purchases of over 20 paper. With a ticket purchase, visitors are able to view the other regular exhibits at the museum, though another ticket purchase is necessary for any additional visit to a special exhibit. The Tokyo National Museum is a 10 minute walk from JR Ueno Station (Park Exit) and a 15 minute walk from Keisei Ueno Station, Tokyo Metro Station, and Tokyo Metro Nezu Station.