Shōsōin

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Shōsō-in

The Shōsō-in (正倉院) is the treasure house that belongs to Tōdai-ji in Nara, Nara, Japan.[1][2] The building is in the azekura log-cabin style, with a raised floor. It lies to the northwest of the Daibutsuden (which houses the Great Buddha). The Shōsō-in houses artifacts connected to Emperor Shōmu (701–756) and Empress Kōmyō (701–760), as well as arts and crafts of the Tempyō period of Japanese history.

History[edit]

Dedicatory records of Tōdai-ji temple, 756

The construction of the Tōdai-ji Buddhist temple complex was ordained by Emperor Shōmu as part of a national project of Buddhist temple construction. During de Tempyō period, the years during which Emperor Shōmu reigned, multiple disasters struck Japan as well as political uproar and epidemics. Because of these reasons Emperor Shōmu launched a project of provincial temples.[3][better source needed] The Tōdai-ji was appointed as the head temple of these provincial temples. Emperor Shōmu was a strong supporter of Buddhism and he thought it would strengthen his central authority as well. The origin of Tōdai-ji's Shōsō-in repository itself dates back to 756, when Empress Kōmyō dedicated over 600 items to the Great Buddha at Tōdai-ji to express her love for her lost husband, Emperor Shōmu, who died 49 days earlier.[4] Her donation was made over five times across several years, then stored at the Shōsō-in. During the Heian period, a large number of treasures, consisting of items and instruments used in important Buddhist services were transferred from a different warehouse called the Kensakuin to the Tōdai-ji.

After the Meiji Restoration, it came under the administration of the national government, and since World War II has been under the administration of the Imperial Household Agency. It is on the UNESCO register of World Heritage Sites as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara. It is also a National Treasure of Japan.

Building[edit]

Azekura style of architecture on another store house at the Tōdai-ji

The building is in the Azekura Zukuri log-cabin style, with a floor raised to about 2.5 m takayuka-shiki (高床式).[5] This is an architectural style that was mainly used for the construction of granaries and storehouses. Some distinctive features of this building style are the triagular, wooden beams that come together in the corners, as well as the fact that it was assembled without using any bolts nor nails. This could be slightly surprising for its height of 14 m, width of 33 m and depth of about 9.3 m.[6] However, it was a logical and smart step. As a result of assembling the storehouse without bolts or nails, the structure became very flexible and able to withstand earthquakes, a phenomenon of nature that Japan was already well acquainted with during Nara period. The Shōsō-in is also the only building to survive the Siege of Nara in the Heian period.[7] The exact construction date is unclear, but construction works probably started soon after the empress's bequest in AD 756 and definitely were finished before AD 759, when the bequest items storage lists were complete.

Preservation of the artefacts[edit]

Since the Shōsō-in was to be a repository for (valuable) objects, it was constructed quite ingeniously to create a natural climate regulation system. This natural climate regulation system was created by elevating the floor to a height of 2.7 m.[8] This made circulation of air underneath the building possible and protected the structure against humidity at the same time. In addition to this, during the first few decennia after its construction, the triangular beams of the Japanese cipres might have functioned als a natural regulator of humidity and temperature. The artefacts themselves were stored away in chests made from Cedar wood that's known for its durabilitiy.[9] These chests were 90–110 cm long, 60–70 cm wide and 40–50 cm high. Not only the building itself but also these chests were elevated from the ground. All these nifty adjustments made it possible to preserve the treasures in perfect state.

Treasures[edit]

The Shōsō-in today holds around 9,000 items, leaving out items that are yet to be classified.[10] The treasures that were donated by Empress Kōmyō were stored in the Hoku Sō, the Northern part of the Shōsōin. From the very beginning this part of the Shōsō-in has been sealed by the imperial family. One was only permitted to enter with explicit permission of the imperial family.[11] While a lot of the items of the collection are remainders from the 8th century and of domestic production, like art or documents, there is also a variety of items originating from Tang China. Other materials comes from as far as India, Iran, Greece, Rome and Egypt.

Although these collections are not open to the public, selections are shown at Nara National Museum once a year in autumn.

The objects and treasures that have been stored in the Shōsō-in can be divided into the following categories. [12]

  • Furniture Chōdo Hin (調度品)
  • Games Yūgi gu (遊戯具)
  • Music instruments Gakki (楽器)
  • Clothing and accessories Fukushoku (復職)
  • Weaponry Buji (武事)
  • Buddhist objects Butsugu (仏具)

Apart from these objects for everyday use, pieces of writing Shoseki have also been preserved in the Shōsō-in. These pieces of writing can tell us detailed stories about Nara period's society, social life, the population, social, cultural and economical activities.[13]

Silk collection[edit]

Since 1994, the Imperial Household Agency's Office of the Shoso-in Treasure House, which is responsible for the administration of the repository, has been producing exact reproduction of ancient Nara textiles. Apart from the appearance and colour, care has been given to reproduce the production and weaving style. The silk is donated each year by Empress Michiko, who personally runs the Momijiyama Imperial Cocoonery at Tokyo Imperial Palace.[14]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "正倉院ホームページ (Shōsōin Homepage, Imperial Household Agency (Japan))" (in Japanese). Retrieved 2007-03-12. 
  2. ^ "Shōsōin" originally stood for the warehouse area that many of the Buddhist temples and governmental sites in the ages of Nara period and Heian period were known to have, and "Shōsō" (正倉) was meaning each independent building located in such an area. However, all but the one in Tōdai-ji were lost over time, thus Shōsōin became a proper noun for the only remaining treasure house building at Tōdai-ji.
  3. ^ Provincial temple
  4. ^ 'Treasures in the Shousouin' Mizuo Hiroshi. Japan Quarterly, Oct 1, 1970, Vol.17(4), p.408.
  5. ^ 'Shosoin : The oldest archive in Japan.' Library and archival security journal. Volume 22, 2009.
  6. ^ 'Shosoin : The oldest archive in Japan.' Library and archival security journal. Volume 22, 2009.
  7. ^ Turnbull, Stephen (1977). The Samurai, A Military History. MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. p. 50. ISBN 0026205408. 
  8. ^ 'Shosoin' Japan Kowledge Lib, encyclopedia of Japan.
  9. ^ 'Shosoin : The oldest archive in Japan.' Library and archival security journal. Volume 22, 2009.
  10. ^ Piggott, Joan. (1990). "Mokkan. Wooden Documents from the Nara Period", Monumenta Nipponica, 45:4, pp. 449-470.
  11. ^ 'Treasures in the Shousouin' Mizuo Hiroshi. Japan Quarterly, Oct 1, 1970, Vol.17(4), p.408.
  12. ^ http://www.kunaicho.go.jp/e-about/shisetsu/shosoin01.html
  13. ^ 'Shosoin : The oldest archive in Japan.' Library and archival security journal. Volume 22, 2009.
  14. ^ Kyoto National Museum | Her Majesty the Empress and the Sericulture of the Koishimaru Silkworm Archived 2008-08-15 at the Wayback Machine.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 34°41′31″N 135°50′19″E / 34.69194°N 135.83861°E / 34.69194; 135.83861