Japan: Temple offers Buddhist enlightenment through manga exhibition

Asahi Shimbun
LOUIS TEMPLADO
May 10, 2014

Visitors to Zojoji temple in Tokyo admire works by manga artists devoted to the theme of Buddha in an exhibition that continues until May 13. (Louis Templado)

Visitors to Zojoji temple in Tokyo admire works by manga artists devoted to the theme of Buddha in an exhibition that continues until May 13. (Louis Templado)

Religion has been called the opiate of the people, but in Japan perhaps manga should carry that title. With that in mind, the popular art form is being used to visualize aspects of Buddhism at Zojoji temple, located in Shiba-koen park in Tokyo’s Minato Ward.

“Hotoke no sekai” (Exhibition of Buddha Illustration by Manga Artists), which runs until May 13, features works by nearly 50 manga artists, past and present, including Osamu Tezuka, Fujio Akatsuka and Takao Saito.

“Manga has become this country’s representative art form, so we asked artists from all over Japan to contribute to this exhibition,” says Keiichi Wada, an organizer of the exhibition. “We asked them to bring their own touch to depicting the Buddha. Many had never done the topic before, so it became an exploration.”

In an illustration by Koji Miyajima, for example, the “Juni shinsho,” or Twelve Heavenly Generals who serve to protect the healing Buddha, are cute beings who could easily be children’s book characters. In a work by Hiroshi Motomiya, however, they are darkened figures in armor ringing a palanquin bearing a glittering Buddha of gold.

Many of the images bring a comical touch to the subject matter. Akatsuka’s best known character, Bakabon Papa, appears as a multi-armed Asura with his hands full of snacks and cleaning supplies.

The showing at Zojoji temple is a follow-up to one held from March to April at Toji temple in Kyoto. The event was held in Kyoto in memory of the Choju-jinbutsu-giga (Scrolls of Frolicking Animals and Humans) dating from the 12th or 13th century, which were long kept at another temple in Kyoto called Kozanji. Some consider the famous set of four picture scrolls, which are read right to left, to be the precursor of modern manga.

Plans call for the exhibition to make its way to various temples around the country.

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