Hachiman in the Guise of a Buddhist Priest
Heian period (794–1185)
19 1/4 x 16 1/8 x 12 5/8 in. (48.9 x 41 x 32 cm)
Currently On View
The Shinto god Hachiman has enjoyed special prominence throughout Japanese history. He was originally a local military guardian, protecting an agricultural and mining community in Usa. Since his legendary birthplace in Japan was near south China, a possible source of military threats, Japanese rulers came to rely upon him for protection against that danger. In this role, Hachiman became known as the Shinto god of war. The Kimbell’s figure of Hachiman reflects a complex theological transformation that occurred when the Japanese sought to reconcile Buddhism, a foreign religion, with native Shinto beliefs. Shinto gods could symbolically enter the Buddhist priesthood, thereby acquiring a dual identity. In this image, Hachiman is dressed as a Buddhist priest. Seated in a meditative position, wearing a monk’s robe, his head shaven, and carrying a jewel in his left hand, he resembles representations of the bodhisattva Kshitigarbha (in Japanese, Jizo), reflecting the fact that Shinto images shared the same stylistic features as Buddhist sculpture of the period. Carved from a solid block of wood, the figure’s generously proportioned chest, shoulders, and legs impart a monumentality that belies the sculpture’s relatively small size, while the slight tilt of the head imparts a touch of naturalism.