A Blessing over the Sea: Cultural Relics on Jianzhen and Murals by Higashiyama Kaii from Toshodaiji


Date:2019-12-17 ~ 2020-02-16
Venue:No. 2 Exhibition Hall

       In China’s Tang Dynasty, Jianzhen (688-763) began as a bonze of the Daming Temple in Yangzhou. To propagate Buddhism in Japan, he took six agonizing voyages eastward and finally reached his destination in 753. There, he founded Toshodaiji, head vihara of Japan’s Ritsu Buddhism. This exhibition is set in the context of Toshodaiji. Cultural relics and contemporary paintings are handpicked from the collection of the temple, testifying to the long tradition of Sino-Japanese cultural exchanges.
   Beginning in the 8th century, Nara witnessed a slow yet sure decline of Buddhist institutions. Thanks to the 3,000 sariras Jianzhen carried to Japan, Toshodaiji was reinvigorated in the 12th century. Crafted to store the sariras, the Kinki Sharito is on display here. Illustrations for The Sea Journey to the East of a Great Bonze from the Tang Dynasty depicts Jianzhen’s legendary life and his spiritual heritage as a strong link between China and Japan.More than 1,200 years after the monk’s demise, Japanese artist Higashiyama Kaii was commissioned to paint 68 murals for Toshodaiji’s Mieido Hall, where a statue of Jianzhen is enshrined. The painter studied Jianzhen’s life and the history of the temple, blending scenery with sentiments into his works. From conception to completion, the creations took a whole decade. In painting them, Higashiyama became, as it were, a second cultural bridge over the East China Sea.
   This year not only marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China but also the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Agreement for Promoting Cultural Exchanges between China and Japan. The Shanghai Museum avails itself of this occasion to dedicate the exhibition to the memory of those pioneers who made indelible contributions to the cultural cross-fertilization of the two neighbouring countries. Our heartfelt gratitude goes to Toshodaiji, the Higashiyama Kaii Foundation, and the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, which have given us great support and cooperation in preparation for this event. Our thanks also go to all those who have worked diligently to make the exhibition possible.