Monday, April 17, 2017

Wish fulfilling jewels of Japan; Houju and Giboshi

Symbolic jewels of Japan; Houju and Giboshi

The sacred jewels are a common theme in Japanese architecture, Buddhist statues and art.
These jewels stem from the same source and can be divided into two types; houju and giboshi.

Houju 宝珠
The houju are a decorative theme used in Buddhist iconography. They are in the shape of a ball or onion. The are sometimes depicted as having a flaming halo. These jewels represent the power of purification and are believed to have the ability to fulfill wishes. The kanji used for houju literally mean treasure (宝) jewel (珠).

The large number of figures in Buddhism makes it difficult to distinguish them in visual depictions. To solve this problems, there were a number of items introduced to Buddhist iconography to help differentiate the many different characters. These items are called jimotsu (持物), simply meaning "held things." These can include items such as an axe, bow, a ringing staff (shakujo), lotus, vajra / kongousho (a kind of hand tool that is pronged on each end), a palace, rope, rosary, lotus, mini-Buddha and many more.

The houju is a jimotsu of several deities. The most popular of these being Jizou (地蔵). Jizou is the bodhisattva that saves souls after death. Jizou is also seen as the protector of children; the roles combine in respect to the souls of fetuses, which being too undeveloped for reincarnation are left to Jizou who smuggles them into the afterlife in his pockets/sleeves.
Jizou statue.
The statue is identified as Jizou by the items it holds.
Near Daunin Temple in Kyoto
 Jizou statue at Koyasan temple (Wakayama prefecture).
The artist may sculpt characters in a different fashion but the items help identify this as Jizou.
As well as Jizou, Kokuzou and Kichijouten also hold a houju.
In Buddhist statues of the many-armed Kanon you can see the statue holding different jimotsu in each hand.
In rare cases you can see a houju with the fox statues associated with Inari. These foxes are often holding various treasures with the mouths, paws and tails such as keys, scrolls, kemari balls and houju.
Daienbutsu-ji, procession of the masked buddhas.


Giboshi 擬宝珠
The term giboshi, 擬宝珠, literally means imitation (擬) houju. That is because giboshi are designed to imitate the appearance of the houju jewels. The giboshi are used as decoration in a number of different roles. Most notably, the giboshi are often used to cap the roof of a temple (these are usually built in the four-sided/pyramid shape with a single point while Shinto shrines have a ridge-line at the top). 

Other uses of the giboshi include a mixture of sacred and secular.
Posts are often capped with decorative giboshi to prevent weathering of the wood; including the porch posts of shrines and temples as well as the posts on bridges.

Tosa Shrine in Osaka.
Fresh, bright brass giboshi protected under the eaves of the roof.

Kiyomizudera Temple in Kyoto.
The patina has been defined by the millions of visitors who touch the giboshi at this famous spot.
Kasuga Shrine in Nara.
The posts of this bridge have giboshi caps.
You can see the patina on the metalwork.
Imamiya Shrine in Nishinomiya.
The giboshi, rails and posts are all bronze.
The famous Taiko-bashi bridge of Sumiyoshi Shrine in Osaka
You often see giboshi on top of the incense burners  lanterns around shrines and temples.

Stone lanterns (石灯籠)
Fushimi Inari in Kyoto (maybe?)



Shigi Temple in Nara Prefectuce.
Statue of Kokuzou, the bodhisattva of wisdom.
Identified by the houju in one hand and the other hand making the in sign for wish granting.
A parade near Arashiyama, paying homage to processions of ancient nobles.
Sometimes you see the houju on parade floats like this and  mikoshi portable shrines.
Tanzan Temple in Nara prefecture.
Note the hanging lanterns 擂り灯籠, post caps and stone lanterns.

Various types of lanterns at Osaka Tenmangu Shrine.
Heijokyo Palace in Nara.
A replica of a houju from the Nara period (710-794).



The shape of houju and giboshi; spheres, flames and ...onions?


The shape the you usually see for houju and giboshi has a bulbous shape that is designed to resemble a peach. However, the older depictions of houju are more spherical. The spherical depitions usually pre-date the Sengoku period of civil wars and the Momoyama period (1573-1615). The Momoyama period derives its name from the Momoyama (peach hill) site where Hideyoshi Toyotomi built Fushimi Castle in Kyoto. The momo in Momoyama does not refer to the trend of peach shaped houju but it is a convenient coincidence for houju history.

Heijokyo Palace in Nara.
Note the spherical shape of the giboshi.
This complex is buildings is a reproduction of buildings 

It was during the Momoyama period that the classical Chinese novel Journey to the West was first published (1592/Ming dynasty) by Wu Cheng'en. This novel has been popular reading in Japan and Eastern Asia, much in the way that Homer's The Odyssey is a classic in Western society. Early in Journey to the West one of the major plot points involves Sun Wukong (the monkey king) who eats the peaches of immortality from the heavenly peach garden, after which Sun Wukong fights a celestial army and is unstoppable until he is detained by the Buddha. There are a few other references to the special qualities of peaches but this is the best known in literature, also, the story has strong Buddhists connections so it is easy to see why it influenced Buddhist art and architecture.
Japan also has its own domestic stories which refer to peaches. The most famous of which is the story of Momotaro (the peach boy) who is born out a mysterious giant peach that was floating down a river. Momotaro grows up to display great strength, vitality and heroism thereby adding to the virtues associated with peaches. While the Momotaro story is originally associated with Okayama prefecture the exact date of its creation is unclear but early prints of the story can be seen in the Edo period.
Ancient Japanese mythology refers to peaches in the story of Izanami and Izanagi in which Izanami journeyed to the land of the dead (in a story that resembles the Greek tales of Orpheus and also the story of Persephone), when Izanagi fled the world of the dead he used various items against the ghouls that were chasing him. The final thing he used to stop the ghouls were peaches before he sealed the entrance to the land of the dead.

In Buddhist paintings and metallic sculptures you often see the houju/giboshi with a flame-like aura around it. This is kalled an kaen houju (火焔宝珠). The kaen houju add artistic flair to the houju and represent impressive examples of metal working. You can usually see the kaen houju on top of temples or bronze lanterns (kondou dourou, 金銅灯籠).
Yakushiji Temple in Nara prefecture.
A beautiful example of a kaen houju.
This giboshi is the cap of an eight-sided building.


A stone houju with an added brass kaen.
Oyamazaki Kanonji, near Ibaraki.
Street lamps near modified to look like kaenhouju.
In front of Hasedera Temple in Nara prefecture.



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