KYOTO--A small crystal-encased Buddha that was discovered at a temple here may have been the handiwork of the studio of master Buddhist sculptor Kaikei around the end of the 12th century, according to an expert.

The wooden Amida Nyorai (Amitabha) statue, called "Suisho hogan iri mokuzo Amida Nyorai zo," is about 5.5 centimeters tall and stands inside a lotus-bud-shaped crystal about 10 cm high. The statue was crafted in a relatively chunky shape to create an optical illusion that it is smaller when a crystal reflecting light is cast on it.

Hiromichi Soejima, professor emeritus of history of Japanese sculpture at Taisho University, who examined the statue, pointed out that the style of the garments is similar to that of Buddha statues created by Kaikei from the early Kamakura Period (1192-1333).

“It would seem that the statue was placed in the crystal from the outset of production,” said Soejima, amazed at how well-preserved the piece is. "It may have been considered a Buddhist statue usually kept hidden from the public," he added.

The celestial Buddha, which has a lapis-colored head and is holding up its right hand with palm facing outward and the thumb and forefinger forming a circle, is set inside a decorative base carved to look like flower petals.

The piece was discovered in a wooden box at Daigoji temple in Kyoto’s Fushimi Ward in 2002.

Kensuke Nedachi, professor of history of Japanese sculpture at Kyoto University, also marveled at the piece's uniqueness, but hesitated to surmise its origin, saying: “I've never seen a Buddha statue inside a crystal. I assume that an individual kept it for worship.”

The professor added, "The statue is believed to have been produced at the beginning of the Kamakura Period. Although it has the flavor of works of art by Kaikei, it lacks graciousness. Further study is needed.”

The statue will be on display to the public until Dec. 10 at Reihokan museum on the grounds of Daigoji temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The entrance fee is 1,500 yen ($13.42) for adults and 1,000 yen for senior and junior high school students.