OMIYAGE FROM JAPAN: Nara Prefecture, the far eastern end of the Silk Road, is rich with Buddhist culture

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
September 13, 2014

Editor’s note: This series showcases various kinds of “omiyage” (souvenirs) from around Japan. We introduce you to “must-buy” items that you can get at prefecture-operated shops for promoting local tourism products in Tokyo. The series appears on Saturdays.

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Once Japan’s capital and home to an ancient dynasty, Nara Prefecture is often referred to as the eastern end of the Silk Road connecting Europe and Asia, via the Eurasian continent.

There is an ancient poem that begins, “Yamato wa kuni no mahoroba.” The word “Yamato” is the old name for Japan and “mahoroba” means “a wonderful place.”

The region is also, historically, closely associated with the Korean Peninsula and has a lot to offer.

When Buddhism was introduced to Japan from the peninsula’s Baekje Dynasty in the sixth century, the latest technologies and knowledge from the continent were also brought to Japan. The famous 15-meter Buddha statue was built in 752 at Todaiji temple.

Buddhism eventually spread throughout Japan after it was incorporated with elements of traditional nature worship and other local practices.

Backed by an increasing popularity for Buddhism in the country in recent years, Kaiyodo Co. is offering a figurine modeled after Gakko Bosatsu (Moonlight Bodhisattva, or Chandraprabha). The Buddhist statue, which is listed as a national treasure, is enshrined at Hokkedo Hall, one of the halls at Todaiji temple.

The figurine’s maker, Kaiyodo, is known for its exquisite craftsmanship. Temple officials also served as supervisors for the figurine.

Details from the Gakko Bosatsu statue, which is popular among Buddhist art enthusiasts for its serene look and straightforward prayer posture, are faithfully recreated.

It certainly showcases the historical exchanges that bound ancient China, Korea and Japan.

The 12-centimeter figurine sells for 3,600 yen ($34.30).

A wide variety of local specialties from Nara Prefecture are also available at Nara Mahoroba-kan in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi district.

Address: 1-6-2 Nihonbashi-Muromachi, Nihonbashi Muromachi 162 Bldg. 1st and 2nd floor, Chuo Ward, Tokyo.

Open seven days a week from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Closed from Dec. 31 to Jan. 3.

Visit the official website at (http://www.mahoroba-kan.jp/index.html).

(This article was written by Choi Chae-soo, head of The Asahi Shimbun Korean digital division.)

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