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About Gangoji Gokuraku-bo Engi Emaki narrative scroll

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The first volume

Gangoji Gokuraku-bo Engi Emaki narrative scroll

The second volume

Gangoji Gokuraku-bo Engi Emaki narrative scroll

Designated as a cultural property by Nara City
Gangoji Gokuraku-bo Engi Emaki narrative scroll

Gangoji temple was derived from Asuka-dera (Hoko-ji) temple. Asuka-dera was built by Sogano Umako in Asuka in 588, the year in which Emperor Sushun was enthroned.

Asuka-dera (Hoko-ji) is the first authentic Buddhist temple in Japan. And with its well-honored and distinguished history, when the capital was transferred to Heijo-kyo, the temple was moved and rebuilt in 718 in Heijo-kyo Sakyo, on the east side of the palace (called Gekyo), and it was registered as Gangoji temple, instead of Asuka-dera (Hoko-ji). In the newly rebuilt Kon-do golden hall, Miroku Nyorai Maitreya was enshrined as the principal image. The Great Buddha of Asuka (Shaka Nyorai, Gautama Buddha) remained in the previous place. As a base for teaching of original Buddhism that has been inherited from Sanron and Hoso sects, the Three Treatises and the Hoso theories, Gangoji got to be known as a scholar’s temple and produced many followers. The place where many scholar priests boarded and learned was the priests’ living quarters. Chiko and Raiko appeared in the narrative scroll, “Gangoji Gokuraku-bo Engi Emaki.” They entered the temple in the same period.

Chiko Hosshi left many notable writings, including "Jomyogenron-ryakujutsu" (A Brief Sketch of the Commentary on the Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra) about the Three Treatises and “Muryoju-kyo Ronshaku” (The Commentary on the Sutra of Immeasurable Life) about the Jodo sect. Especially, he was a predecessor in the faith of “Amida Nyorai (Amitabha Tathagata) in the Western Pure Land”, and quoted in “Ojo Yoyaku” (The instruction for peaceful death) written by Ryogen and Eshin in the Tendai sect. Since the middle of the Heian Era, while the Amida Buddha’s Pure Land faith was flourishing, Chiko drew people’s attention again. The story of Chiko Mandala, “the Amitabha Jodo Henso-zu” describing the scenery of Buddha’s Pure Land, which made Chiko achieve enlightenment, was introduced in “Nihon Jurai Gokuraku-ki” (traveling to paradise) written by Yoshishige Yasutane in 984. The priests’ living quarters where Chiko and Raiko lived became one of the sacred places of the Jodo faith and was called “Gokuraku-bo” (the Buddha's Pure Land). It is assumed that this name comes from the fact that Chiko enshrined the picture of the Buddha's Pure Land ashesis principal image, but nobody knows the true origin.

Due to the decline of the Ritsuryo period, the temple buildings in Gangoji were forced to be removed or transferred. And since the Middle Ages, townhouses of common people were built on the former temple ground of Gangoji. The town had grown and was named “Naramachi”. When the Jodo Ojo faith (Amida worship leading to the Pure Land) became prevalent among common people, the Gokuraku-bo was protected by its worshippers. The original Chiko Mandala was destroyed by fire, but it was transcribed into many copies. Mandala-bo (Gokuraku-bo) and the Zen Room (the priests’ living quarters) have been conserved as national treasures, and they were both designated as World Cultural Heritages in rcent years.

“Gangoji Gokuraku-bo Engi Emaki narrative scroll” is an illustrated narrative scroll describing the origin of its principal image, Chiko Mandala, and the relationship with Gokuraku-in temple in Nanto. Gokuraku-in was Shuin-ji, a temple protected by the Tokugawashesogunate and exempted from tax (about 15,000 kg of rice). The mandala consisted of 19 columns of pictures and lyrics, and two volumes in total. According to the postscript written on the latter half, since the conventional transcription was damaged in 1701, the master priest of Gokuraku-in, Sonkaku Risshi (1651-1719), who used to be the senior priest at Saidai-ji temple, recommended its restoration. Archbishop Daisojo Dojo (1661-1733), called Yasui Monzeki of Todai-ji Kegenchori Nigatsudo Betto and later acalligrapher, was assigned to this renewal. Dojo was a very talented priest who was first adopted by Kugashesi and by Takatsukashesi, and entered Ninna-ji temple. He finally became the temple successor of Renge Ko-in (Yasui). The scroll was depicted on the brilliant background colored with gold paint. The people who view his picture feel affinity with the people depicted with plump body lines and familiar scenery. But there is also another theory that this was made by Myoyo Kokan (1653-1717), who was a pupil of Kano Einou (1630-1697) as well as an artist priest of the Jodo sect.

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Set in the land of beginnings with a history spanning 1,300 years,
Gangoji is a National Treasure and World Heritage Site of Nara.