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CT Scanning Research of the Four Heavenly Kings Statues of Nan'en-do at Kofukuji Temple in Nara!

This video, titled "Unkei’s ‘mark’ found on Four Heavenly Kings standing statues," is about the Four Heavenly Kings statues at Nan'en-do in Nara Prefecture. It was published by "Asahi Shimbun."

In 2017, the Tokyo National Museum conducted CT scans on the Buddhist statues of Kofukuji Temple in Nara Prefecture (奈良県, Nara-ken) to coincide with a special exhibit called "Unkei—The Great Master of Buddhist Sculpture."
It opened up the possibility that the creator of the Mujaku and Seshin standing statues (無著世親菩薩立像, Mujaku Seshin Bosatsu Ryuzo), known as the most highly acclaimed Japanese sculptures, was none other than genius Buddhist sculptor Unkei.
Presently in Japan, it is said that there are 31 other statues created by Unkei, but there is a likelihood that the number will rise as surveys continue.

The CT Scan Research of the Four Heavenly Kings Statues

According to the video, by CT scanning the Four Heavenly Kings statues of Nan'en-do, and the Mujaku and Seshin standing statues of the North Round Hall (北円堂, Hokuendo), it was discovered that wooden parts containing tree cores had been combined to make both groups of statues.
It is therefore said that the Four Heavenly Kings statues at Kofukuji Temple were created by Unkei.
The commonality in technique used in the Mujaku and Seshin statues is an important factor to back the claim that the creator of both groups of statues is Unkei.

In the video, the statue, over 2 meters tall, is neatly wrapped, and from 0:49 in the video, the x-ray CT scanning begins.
From 0:10 in the video, Ryusuke Asami, section chief of the planning division at the Tokyo National Museum, says in interview, "the Four Heavenly Kings statues have never been photographed using x-rays before and the structures of the insides of the statues has also not been understood."

What are the Four Heavenly Kings?

The Four Heavenly Kings are the four gods of Buddhism that protect the four directions and consist of the Jikokuten statue (持国天像, Jikokuten-zo) of the east, the Zojoten statue (増長天像, Zojoten-zo) of the south, the Komokuten (広目天像, Komokuten-zo) statue of the west, and the Tamokuten statue (多聞天像, Tamonten-zo) of the North.

The Four Heavenly Kings statues at Kofukuji Temple were thought to be the works of Unkei’s father, Kokei, but from this research and researches on their styles, it has become increasingly believable that these were created by the hands of Unkei himself.

The National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties of Kofukuji Temple

Image of Nara Prefecture・Kofukuji
Photo:Nara Prefecture・Kofukuji

Kofukuji Temple, located in Nara Prefecture, consists of historical buildings, such as the East Golden Hall (東金堂, Tokondo), the West Golden Hall (西金堂, Saikondo), the North Round Hall, and the South Round Hall (Nan'en-do).
The wooden statues of the Four Heavenly Kings at Kofukuji were moved from the Old Golden Hall (旧金堂, Kyukondo) to the South Round Hall replacing the Four Heavenly Kings statues in the South Round Hall, which are introduced in the video.

Other than these, there are many temple treasures at Kofukuji Temple which were created during the Heian period (794-1185) and the Kamakura period (1185-1333), including the Asura statue, the wooden Medicine King (Bhaishajyaraja) and Medicine Superior standing statues (薬王菩薩・薬上菩薩立像, Mokuzo Yakuobosatsu・Yakujobosatsu Ryuzo), the bronze Medicine Master sitting statue (薬師如来坐像, Yakushinyorai Zazo), Ryowakiji statue, the wooden Manjushri standing statue (文殊菩薩立像, Monjubosatsu Ryuzo), the wooden Vimalakirti sitting statue (維摩居士坐像, Yuimakoji Zazo), the wooden Twelve Heavenly Generals standing statues (十二神将立像, Junishinsho Ryuzo), and the bronze Buddha head.

Summary of the Four Heavenly Kings of Kofukuji

This article introduced the massive discovery of the Four Heavenly Kings of Kofukuji possibly being created by the genius Buddhist sculptor, Unkei.
The research by the Tokyo National Museum may lead to an important discovery that unravels the mysteries of history.

Nara Prefecture has flourished for more than a thousand years, back when it was called Heijokyo (平城京, Heijo-kyo), and it still has many sightseeing locations, such as Todaiji Temple, Kasuga Shrine (春日大社, Kasuga-taisha), Yakushiji Temple, Taima Temple (当麻寺, Taimadera), and more.
If you’re interested in Buddhist statues or Japanese history in general, we urge you to visit!

【Official Website】The Head Temple of the Hosso School (法相宗, Hosso-shu) Kofukuji Temple

Written By
Last Updated : Sep. 15, 2020
坂崎 なお(Nao Sakazaki)
Interested in Japanese culture and traditions! I'll be introducing lovely scenery to you!
A CT Scan of a Buddhist Statue Reveals It to Be the Work of Genius Buddhist Sculptor Unkei?! This Massive Work of Art Has the Potential to Change What We Know About History!
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