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■“Gohyakurakan (Five hundred arhats)” Photos and text by ONODA Minoru
Five or six years have already passed since I first encountered Hojo and Gohyakurakan.
As I had a formative interest in primitivism, I sought it out for creative desires. Even now, I have not forgotten the deep emotions I felt when I was faced with the stone images of Buddha, standing individually, sharply chiseled, and the hard shadows that fell from them. How easily I can recall the resounding smell of grass under that summer sun. Directly to my skin I could feel the primitive energy projected from the mesh of stone and sun. Due to several recent publications in newspapers and magazines, many visitors visit Gohyakurakan today, but at that time, visitors were scarce. There was no disturbance between our conversation. It was just myself and Gohyakurakan in that moment. Hojo is a country town, about one hour North by bus from Himeji station, but a long time ago the old town had reached glory as the only city among the mountains. It was famed as Hojo in Mie and praised as a Sakami Village.
Gohyakurakan is located beside this town, next to a junior high school, Hojo 1293, Hojocho, Kasai city in Hyogo***. These stone images of Buddha were abandoned as the grass grew thick. However, on August 15th, 1926 (Taisho era), volunteers repaired them and moved them to the place where they stand now.
There are no documentation concerning Gohyakurakan, so it’s unclear where it comes from. However, from the diary Tayasu in Bakumatsu (1854 -1867), “Gohyakurakan are unmoved and stand orderly in the bamboo woods in Terauchi Village. Their oldness does not liken to any other thing. Though the year they were made is not certain, the stone Buddha images near the entrance are newer ones reproduced by Mr. Kiyoemon Takase on the 26th of March in the 15th year of the Keicho era (1611). There is a small hermitage in the neighborhood. Three buddhas in this hermitage are said to have been made by Gyoki Bodhisattava. This hermitage has no habitant, so these three buddhas were given to Mr. Tokugoro Takase and he enshrined them. Every event was controlled by him. Twenty-five stone Buddha statues were rebuilt by various people in the Bunsei era (1818-1830). This old book is the only information we have on Gohyakurakan. There seems to be no other way to find out about this site except to ask an archaeology and art history expert. Local researcher, Mr. Mie guesses about the year they were made and the artist in his study:
The stone Buddha images at the entrance have signs of being restored in the 15th year of Keicho (1611). These stone Buddha images were made long before that and had been ruined at the end of the Muromachi period (1336-1573).
And Sakami shrine (Sumiyoshi Shrine now) and Sakami temple neighboring Gohyakurakan are inseparable relation. So it is not unnatural that Gohyakurakan were made additionally at erection of these two shrine and temple. Sakami Shrine (now Sumiyoshi Shrine) and Sakami temple are surely related to Gohyakurakan. So it is possible that Gohyakurakan was made at the same time this shrine and temple were erected.
Sakami temple was considerably flourished until Yoshino period (14th century). At that time, Daimyo*** made contributions of 40 chobu*** fields to shrine and Ms. Sennyo made bell contributions to shrine in Teiji year 3th (1365) and AKAMATSU family built auditorium. And then we can think they have made stone buddha contributions. Sakami temple considerably flourished until the Yoshino period (14th century). Daimyo made contributions of forty chobu to the shrine, and Ms. Sennyo gave a bell to the shrine in the 3rd year of Teiji (1365). It is also possible they contributed the stone buddhas. In the records of Sakami temple, after Namboku-cho (1336-1392), because of the war imperial messengers weren’t allowed to be dispatched. According to the book of the Takase family, during the period of Kiyoemon Tadanari records of who restored Gohyakurakan burned in the war fires. Therefore the period of Gohyakurakan’s ruin can be estimated at about the end of the Muromachi war period, Tehsho era.
From the excerpt mentioned above we can suspect that Gohyakurakan was created in the flourishuing period of Sakami temple, from the end of the Kamakura through to the beginning of the Muromachi period (1333-1336).
We have various theories regarding the artist of Gohyakurakan. I cannot believe that an amateur was responsible due to the visible technique and also of course it is not made by a pure craftsman for Buddha images. The stone used to make the Buddha images seems to be from around Koshitsu (place name) and it may have been that there was not one artist who made them, but several. But it is hard to believe that the artist was a mere builder or contributor of Gohyakurakan because of the poor economic situation at that time. It was probably a leader or powerful family who commissioned them.
Also the faces of the stone Buddha images resemble Aryan. Therefore the main theory is that the artists were boat or naturalized people. But there is no record that boat people had gone there, and it is questionable as to whether or not the foreigners living around the woods and mountains of Setouchi had been invaded by Japanese people or had enough money to make a lot of stone images. In any case, there are almost no clues to show us actual history so I would be happy if this was studied more in the future.
Whatever the historical background, I feel great wonder about these unique sculptures found in the low mountains of Sanyo.
One arhat is like the sculptures made by Enku, one is like Haniwa, another is like Indian sculpture, and yet another looks as if it could be Greek. Not a single one is alike. The finely carved surfaces as well as the awkward ones, the delicate and rough lines, shows me the simplicity, strength and beauty as well as the carefree humor of the stone Buddha artist.
In visiting Gohyakurakan many times, now I am interested in the distance between them. I am looking for a way to analyze the particulars of the distances. Sometimes the distance is near, and sometimes it is very far away. They stimulate modern formative conscious and change the direction with expecting contradiction each other. In that meaning, I confirm my own change process and to decide my direction, it is never non-sense about the conversation with these stone buddhist images and always provide fresh question.
*Gyoki: monk in period 668-749
**Daimyo: Japanese fendal lord
(Sansai ,May issue, published by Sansai-sha co., ltd. 1963)
copyright（c）Minoru Onoda Office All Rights reserved.
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