To-ji Temple: Kukai and the Sculpture Mandala
In a nutshell
Even the title in English is a bit confusing to us non-Japanese -- where is the To-ji temple? What/who (he’s a who) is Kukai? Mandalas, they’re normally seen on paper or in powder form but as sculptures? This exhibition is an opportunity to see some of Japan’s most cherished National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties. Almost all of the objects are from the To-ji Temple, which was built almost 1200 years ago in the then newly established capital of Kyoto. The exhibition tells the story of Kukai, the Japanese priest who had recently returned from China and established To-ji as the center of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism. Kukai brought mandalas to Japan and he is believed to have arranged the statues in the sculpture mandala in To-ji’s lecture hall. The exhibition includes many statues, two dimensional mandalas, various ceremonial objects, and papers and ends with the The World of Mandalas, large room filled with incredible Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Wisdom Kings, and Devas.
The exhibition is on the second floor, rooms 1 and 2, of the Heiseikan building of the Tokyo National Museum. The World of Mandalas takes up half the exhibition space.
English? (labels/audio guides/handouts)
There is a lot of information in English: the introduction and chapter information as well as some explanatory panels. Not every extended caption is translated, however, so the English-language audio guide is highly recommended, which also includes some beautiful chants.
Photographs are not allowed, except for one statue (photo above), which is clearly marked.
This is a unique opportunity to view the stunning treasures of To-ji in Tokyo and to learn more about Esoteric Buddhism.
This exhibition does an excellent job integrating beautiful, priceless objects and specifics about Kukai, To-ji, and Esoteric Buddhism, with more basic information about Buddhism in general, addressing visitors at all levels of historical, religious and artistic knowledge.
How far out?
Centrally located in Ueno Park.
How much time?
About an hour and a half.
How much money?
¥1,600 for general admission.
June 2, 2019
Rating: make a special trip, see it if you’re in the area or have some free time, see it only if you like this specific type of art
Worth a special trip. Don’t miss it!