Photo/IllutrationHoryuji temple’s murals from the seventh century that were damaged in a fire in 1949 in Ikaruga, Nara Prefecture, are shown to media in November 2015. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

IKARUGA, Nara Prefecture--Japan's oldest Buddhist murals housed at a temple here will be shown to the public in the near future for only the second time since being damaged in a fire about 70 years ago.

Genmyo Ono, chief priest of the World Heritage Horyuji temple, announced the plan to exhibit the 12 paintings from its Golden Pavilion that date to the seventh century at a meeting on Jan. 27 of the committee tasked to preserve and utilize the works.

The murals, designated as an important cultural property by the government, are considered masterpieces. They have been kept at the temple's warehouse, a reinforced concrete structure that was completed in 1952.

Ono decided to show the murals after a recent seismic diagnosis found the warehouse was still capable of withstanding a powerful earthquake for the coming decades.

The paintings have been closed to the public, in principle, with the only exception being in 1994, when they were shown to a limited audience of about 10,000 people.

The collection, which comprises four 3.1-meter-by-2.6-meter pieces and eight 1.5-meter-by-1.5-meter pieces, depicts various Buddhist images, including Shakyamuni, the healing Buddha and Buddhist saints.

Although they were originally illustrated in rich colors, their hues were lost in the damage from the blaze at the temple in January 1949.

Yoshitaka Ariga, professor of the history of Buddhist art at the Tokyo University of the Arts who chairs the committee, told the meeting that the committee will compile a set of proposals toward the exhibition.

“Horyuji marks the 1,400th year of the death of Shotoku Taishi in 2021,” he said, referring to the prince who founded the temple. “We will work on announcing suggestions by that time.”

Temple officials are expected to show the murals after taking measures to ensure the soundness of the interior based on the committee’s expertise.

A comprehensive study of the murals has been under way since 2015 after the committee was set up with cooperation from the Cultural Affairs Agency and The Asahi Shimbun.