As museums across Japan celebrate the 1,400th anniversary of the death of Prince Shōtoku Taishi, the legendary figure who brought Buddhism to Japan, the Sainsbury Institute together with the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia is currently collaborating with major universities and museums in Japan to create a special exhibit commemorating the event. This Shōtoku Intervention will display the Sainsbury Centre’s collection of Japanese Buddhist and Shinto artefacts centred around a rare 13th century Kamakura period statue of a female Shinto deity. To better explain the significance of Shōtoku Taishi, Beyond Japan will be exploring over three episodes the religious, political and historical context of this dynamic period of East Asian history. We hope you enjoy our Shōtoku miniseries.
Our first Shōtoku interviewee is Marcus Teeuwen, Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Oslo, who will help us understand the changing faiths of Japan in the 7th century through the Buddhist concept of honji suijaku (本地垂迹), a notion which allowed Buddhist monks to explain the gods, or kami, worshipped in Japan at the time as traces of Buddhist deities. Mark explains that our contemporary understanding of religion as competing bodies which seek to shape how people live their lives with the goal of a happy afterlife does not apply in this period of time, that the worship of deities had much more practical intentions and that politics were at the core of the spread of Buddhism.