Kagawa sculptor carving Buddhist statue on pilgrimage route in Spain

Asahi Shimbun
HARUKO HOSOKAWA
May 09, 2014

Fumiaki Ogita sits next to his Buddhist statuette he carved out of a live tree in Shikokuchuo, Ehime Prefecture. (Haruko Hosokawa)

Fumiaki Ogita sits next to his Buddhist statuette he carved out of a live tree in Shikokuchuo, Ehime Prefecture. (Haruko Hosokawa)

KANONJI, Kagawa Prefecture–Far from home, a sculptor of Buddhist images from the city here has started work on a large tree on a famed pilgrimage route in Molinaseca, Spain.

The sculptor Bonkai, whose real name is Fumiaki Ogita, hopes that his Buddhist sculpture will serve as a connection between the island of Shikoku in Japan with the Spanish town, both well-known for their pilgrimage routes.

Ogita, 73, left for Spain on April 20 to carve a Kannon statuette out of a tree on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage trail, which is designated a World Heritage site. Pilgrims from across the world visit the town of Molinaseca, the northwestern region of Spain, on their journey.

In Spain, Ogita is carving a Kannon statuette using a method called “ikiki jizo.”

The sculptor’s first ikiki jizo, created when he was 38 years old, can be found in the mountains in Shikokuchuo, Ehime Prefecture.

Ogita was asked by a local preservation group to carve a sculpture on a nearby tree after the original one, which was carved nearly 300 years ago out of a tree, deteriorated with age. Ogita repaired the sculpture when the tree bark that had thickened with time started to fill in around it.

In November 2010, the mayor of Molinaseca was invited to travel around Shikoku by nonprofit organization, Network for Shikoku Henro Pilgrimage and Hospitality, in Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, which is grappling with the revitalization of the Shikoku pilgrimage route.

The mayor asked Ogita to carve an image in his Spanish town when he saw the ikiki jizo he had created. The town hosted an exhibition set up by the NPO in connection with materials regarding the Shikoku pilgrimage to disseminate the historical culture of the journey.

The famed 1,300-kilometer route in Shikoku takes pilgrims to 88 temples, following in the footsteps of the monk Kukai (774-835), founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism in Japan.

In 2011, Ogita visited Molinaseca to choose a walnut tree, 70 centimeters in diameter, which appeared suitable for carving a sculpture. In celebration of the 400th anniversary of the beginning of exchanges between Japan and Spain, the NPO is paying Ogata’s expenses in carving the sculpture and the town government his accommodations.

Ogita will carve the 142-centimeter-tall Kannon statuette over the next three months. As he carves a Buddhist image out of a tree, he cannot create a large sculpture like those made by joining two pieces of wood carved in the shape of a head and body of the statue.

Ogita associates the image of the benevolent Buddhist deity with an image of the Virgin Mary. Although Ogita aimed to pursue abstract art after graduating from an art university, he found himself at a loss of what to do.

Ogita became a sculptor of Buddha images after roaming throughout Latin America. He has made sculptures to offer to the deceased in homes as well as ones installed at temples while he was managing a school teaching the making of Buddhist sculptures.

The sculptor referred to the religious differences between Christianity and Buddhism.

“If Christian pilgrims look at the Buddhist image with simple sensitivity, they would be able to overcome the religious differences and identify with (the minds of Buddhism),” he said.

The Buddhist eye-opening memorial service to consecrate the completed statue will be held July 15 in Molinaseca.

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