Photo/IllutrationThe “Kenukigata” Long Sword (Tachi) with Mother-of-Pearl Inlay on a Gold Ground is on display at the Nara National Museum in Nara. (Ryo Miyazaki)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

NARA--A special exhibition celebrating the 1,250th anniversary of the founding of Kasuga Taisha shrine is being held at the Nara National Museum.

Hosted by Kasuga Taisha, The Asahi Shimbun and other entities, the exhibition, titled “Kasuga Taisha: Centuries of Worship Revealed in Sacred Treasures,” features 224 artifacts including 57 government-designated national treasures and 47 important cultural properties.

The event, which opened April 14, runs until June 10.

The “Kenukigata” Long Sword (Tachi) with Mother-of-Pearl Inlay on a Gold Ground, which is a government-designated national treasure, was created during the Heian Period (794-1185). The sheath features an inlaid mother-of-pearl work that portrays a cat chasing sparrows in a bamboo forest, with high-purity gold used for the hilt and other metal parts.

A replica of the legendary sword, which was forged by Shosai Kitamura, 80, a living national treasure, and other artisans is also on display next to the real sword. Many visitors were enthusiastically looking at both artifacts.

“I think it was a project to which a mother-of-pearl inlay, metalwork and all the other technologies of highest quality at the time were applied,” said Yukihiro Igarashi, 65, who came from Chiba with his wife. “The replica showed me the vivid colors and craftsmanship from that period.”

There were also many spectators gathering around the nation’s precious treasures, including the Large Drum with Facing Dragons, a national important cultural property that was unveiled to the public after it was repaired for the first time in 110 years; and the “Oyoroi” Armor with Red Lacings and Bamboo-Tiger-Sparrow Decoration, which is a lavishly decorated armor designated as a national treasure.

On display in an exhibition room, where visitors can learn about the spread of the Kasuga faith and the theory of “shinbutsu shugo” (the fusion of Shintoism and Buddhism) before and during the early modern period, are Kasuga mandalas featuring buildings of Kasuga Taisha, deer and other motifs, in addition to “emaki” picture scrolls featuring tales associated with deities of the shrine. The Kasuga Honjaku Mandala, a government-designated important cultural property, shows 10 human-shaped deities of Kasuga Taisha, with a bodhisattva sitting on a cloud similar to a speech balloon used in cartoons coming out from each of them. It expresses the theory of “honji suijaku,” which states that Japanese deities are temporary manifestations of Buddhas or bodhisattvas from a foreign land.

“Shinto and Buddhist deities are featured together in most of the Kasuga mandalas. I hope visitors can learn how Japanese people before the Edo Period (1603-1867) had faith in the Shinto and Buddhism deities while seeing them as integrated beings,” said Ken Shimizu, chief of the department of decorative and applied arts and archaeology.

The museum is closed Mondays. The venue is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and for extended hours on Fridays and Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. (last admission 30 minutes prior to closing).

Admission at the door is 1,500 yen ($13.70) for adults, 1,000 yen for senior high school and college students and 500 yen for elementary and junior high school students.

For more information, visit the official website at (https://www.narahaku.go.jp/english/exhibition/2018toku/kasuga/kasuga_e.html).