May 19, 2010

The Diaspora of Kyoto's Buddhist Sculptors in Edo Period Japan: To Osaka, Edo, and Beyond

Presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, April 5, 2008, on the panel: Centers/Peripheries in Medieval and Early Modern Japan

This paper examines the fate of Japan's preeminent Buddhist sculpture making workshops of Kyoto in the Edo period, whose hierarchy, patronage base, and market reach changed dramatically during this time. These developments occurred due to political and social changes instigated by the Tokugawa shogunate. Kyoto workshops specialized in the production of religious images, whose manufacture required high levels of technical skill that fostered the development of guild-like lineages. At their apex was the Seventh Avenue Atelier, which for centuries garnered commissions in the Kansai region from the highest echelons of the court and samurai and the important temples they supported.

Following Tokugawa Ieyasu's establishment of Edo as his capital, the Seventh Avenue Atelier began to produce imagery for Tokugawa temples there. By the late 17th century, the shogunate fortunes had declined so significantly that work dwindled. Many sculptors left this prestigious workshop to found new ateliers serving different groups of patrons, both commoners and daimyo, in Edo, Osaka, and elsewhere. Although scholars have long dismissed Kyoto's Edo period Buddhist sculpture as derivative, my paper refutes this bias using case studies that draw on recent research into the holdings of provincial temples in Takamatsu City and Aomori Prefecture. The permeation of the work of Kyoto Buddhist sculptors into the nation's periphery reflects their resilience and creativity. It also reveals changing patterns of wealth distribution and the desire of nationwide patrons of Buddhism to increase their cultural status through association with art styles of the imperial capital.