KYOTO--Rare traces of a sacred ancient Buddhist ritual that was performed prior to drawing a 12th-century national treasure painting has been discovered through infrared photography during restoration work.

The Kyoto National Museum announced the discovery, the first of its kind, on Aug. 7.

The tracing work done in the ritual was found around the stomach of “Kifudo,” which is the Buddhist deity “Fudo Myoo,” in the painting housed at Manshuin temple in Kyoto’s Sakyo Ward. The deity is from the Japanese Buddhist form of Acalanatha.

In this ritual called “misoginukaji,” a Buddhist priest traced the outline of the Buddhist image with “kozui,” sacred water, on silk to remove impurities from the material and give it "divinity" before an artist drew the image on the fabric.

Although this ritual is commonly performed, such traces are rarely found, according to the museum.

The image, measuring between 10 and 20 centimeters, lined with “usuzumi,” thin black ink, which is believed to have been drafted by an artist for a Buddhist priest to trace the outline of the image with kozui. It was found around the stomach of the actual painting of Kifudo.

The size of the draft image of the small Kifudo drawn for the ritual is said to be one-10th the size of the image of Kifudo in the painting.

The ink drawing was discovered in an image taken of the back of the painting by infrared photography. It was snapped after the paper backing of the silk fabric on which the Kifudo had been depicted was peeled during renovation work on the severely damaged painting, which had been authorized by the Cultural Affairs Agency.

Since kozui is colorless and transparent, it leaves no trace. However, the ritual was confirmed, thanks to the draft image depicted in thin black ink.

“According to reference materials, misoginukaji appear at the end of 10th century, however, there is hardly any trace left. We can say that this is the first discovery of its kind,” said Yoshitoyo Ohara, head of conservation and restoration supervision division of Kyoto National Museum.

"Misoginukaji may have been practiced in Japan as a result of the ethos of a nation that respects sanctitude,” Ohara added.

“The discovery of the trace reinforced the fact that the Buddhist painting is an object of their faith.”

The Buddhist painting of Kifudo, which is normally not shown to the public, will be displayed during an exhibition titled Kyoto National Museum 120th Anniversary Commemorative Special Exhibition National Treasures: Masterpieces of Japan, which will run from Oct. 3 to Nov. 26 at the Kyoto National Museum.

The national treasure artwork will be on display from Oct. 31 to Nov. 26 at the museum.