The Buddha of Kamakura and the “Modernization” of Buddhist Statuary in the Meiji Period

Hiroyuki Suzuki


During Japan’s revolutionary years in the latter half of the nineteenth century, in particular after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, people experienced a great change in the traditional values that had governed various aspects of their life during the Edo period (1603-1867). In their religious life, Buddhism lost its authority as the Meiji government, propagating Shintoism, repeatedly ordered the proclamation of the separation of Shintoism and Buddhism after the Restoration. The proclamation brought about the anti-Buddhist movement haibutsu kishaku, and the nationwide movement doomed Buddhist statuary to a fate that it had never before met. But a number of statues, fortunately rescued from destruction, became recognized as sculptural works of Buddhist art during the late 1880s. This paper examines the change of viewpoints that occurred in the 1870s whereby the Buddha of Kamakura, a famous colossus of seated Amida (Amitâbha) from the mid-thirteenth century, was evaluated afresh and, from this perspective, tries to clarify the process in which the notion of the art of Buddhist sculpture was established in the Meiji period (1868-1912).

Full Text: