Outline of Exhibition

The Function of Medieval Temples and Monasteries:Esoteric Ceremonies - Zen Monks - Bathing Facilities
Chief sponsor National Museum of Japanese History (REKIHAKU)
Dates Tuesday, October 1 through Sunday, November 24, 2002
Venue Special Exhibition Galleries 1 and 2, the National Museum of Japanese History
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Exhibition Theme

(1) To exhibit in a clear and accessible fashion documents from medieval temples and monasteries in the Museum's collections which have previously never been made public.

The National Museum of Japanese History has previously displayed material from its Medieval Collections in exhibits such as the "Medieval Samurai Documents" exhibit and the "Medieval Diaries" exhibit and has also, in the year 2000, published a "Catalogue of Historical Documents from the library of Mr. Yutaka Tanaka."

However, these documents from temples and monasteries in the Museum's collections have never before been publicly exhibited and will now be on display in a new style of exhibition, free from the conventional stylistic display used in diplomatics. The exhibit will introduce the results of the latest research on temple and monastery documentation in a clear, easy-to-understand way, as well as display the documents in their context in the historical perspective, landscape, and historical space reconstructed through such research.

(2) To organize, from a "life history" perspective, the results of research on medieval temples and monasteries and to give an overall view of the various functions and roles played by temples and monasteries in medieval times.

Recent research on the history of medieval temples and monasteries has begun to move away from the conventional study of religious history and of religious doctrines to reveal a view of the various aspects of medieval temples and monasteries in a social history context. In place of the traditional historical view equating medieval Buddhism with the new Kamakura Buddhism, the latest studies provide a new picture of medieval temples and monasteries by showing the existence of Esoteric Buddhist state rituals and the involvement of Zen monks in diplomacy. The National Museum of Japanese History presents this new image of medieval temples and monasteries with a focus on the connection between religion and daily life for the people of this time, prompting modern-day viewers to reflect upon their own daily lives.

Exhibition Layout

- Prologue

The exhibit will show, in a clear and accessible way, how Buddhism exerted a larger influence on the social life in medieval times than has generally been believed and how medieval temples and monasteries held various social roles and functions.

I. Esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyo) and ceremonies

In considering Buddhism as a state religion responsible for carrying out rituals to promote national welfare, the role has generally been attributed to the six schools of Nara Buddhism. However, recent studies reveal that such rituals for national welfare were actually conducted by medieval schools of Esoteric Buddhism (Mikkyo) and were socially accepted by a wide section of society from the imperial court and kenmon (national establishment) temples to the regional and village temples and monasteries.

Small exhibition (1): State rituals conducted by regional temples

The same Buddhist rituals as those held at the imperial court and kenmon (national establishment) temples were conducted in the regional and village temples.

Small exhibition (2): Medieval Buddhist mass and music

Buddhist chants and merry-making at Buddhist rituals and ceremonies gave birth to music and entertainment.

II. The world of Zen monks and diplomacy

Medieval Zen monks were deeply involved in diplomacy. For this reason, Zen temples and monasteries housed a bilingual culture with a strong influence from Chinese lifestyles and culture. Chinese-style poems and ink paintings were created while entertaining foreign diplomatic missions.

Small exhibition (1): Portrait showing exchange between Japan and China

Portraits of priests were brought back and forth between Japan and China as paintings and captions were added.

Small exhibition (2): The world of diplomatic priest, Seikei Tenyo

This exhibition introduces the world of Seikei Tenyo, a Zen monk who accompanied the artist Sesshu to Ming as a senior envoy to Ming China.

III. Social life in the temples

(1) Temples, monasteries, and travel in medieval times

Monks traveled extensively and also were responsible for the maintenance of bridges and ferries.

(2) Temples, monasteries, and war

Temples were deeply involved in medieval wars, serving as camps, conducting memorial services for those killed in the war, and sending out Jinso, or military priests who followed the army in battles and went to the front to rescue the wounded, perform funeral services and propitiate the souls of the dead.

(3) Temples, monasteries, and bathing facilities

The bathing facilities of temples and monasteries were places for priests to purify their minds and their bodies and to hold council. They eventually came to be used to offer free baths to pilgrims and are the source of our present-day baths.

(4) Dialogue with the Shinto and Buddhist deities

Through review of documents depicting medieval people conversing with the Shinto and Buddhist deities, this exhibit sheds light on the medieval view of gods and the Buddha.

IV. The temple and economic life

(1) Temples, monasteries as owners of shoen (manors)

The exhibit displays in an easy-to-understand way the world of shoen, or the manorial system, which provided the economic base for the kenmon (national establishment) temples.

(2) Temples, monasteries, and the tea ceremony

The exhibit displays Uji tea in medieval times in connection with the tea ceremony in the eastern provinces and the ceremony and game of tocha (tea contest).

(3) Temples, monasteries, and craftsmen

This exhibit displays, in an easy-to-understand fashion, dining utensils called kakeban (lacquered dining tables) extensively used in Buddhist rituals, and introduces viewers to the world of the lacquer craftsmen who created these kakeban. Results of scientific analysis of the lacquer found in discovered artifacts and on lacquer in the medieval ages are also introduced.

- Epilogue - Spread of popular Buddhism

What new dimensions did the integration of the daily lives of the people with Buddhism open up in medieval times?

Main Items on Exhibit

Click the Hyperlinks below to show a larger picture.

Kamidaigo Nishiburo Sashizu (Directions to Kamidaigo west baths)*
Scroll painting of the Battle of Yuuki: Important Cultural Property*
The Gouda-In Shinki (Diary of ex-emperor Gouda): National Treasure*
The Gouda-In Shinki (Diary of ex-emperor Gouda): National Treasure*

*: the collection of the National Museum of Japanese History

  • Seated figures of the Five Great Myouoo (Vidyarajas, Radiant Wisdom Kings): The collection of Daigoji-Temple
  • Basho Yauzu (Night rain over plantain): Important Cultural Property and the collection of the Tokyo National Museum
  • Tozenji poetry panel: The collection of Tozenji-Temple (Kanagawa prefecture)

Guide to Museum Facilities and Collections