The Buddhism's effect on religious, artistic, and political growth of Japan is not possible to overstate. Nowadays, Japan is the globe's greatest repositories of Buddhist art and practice, and a main source for ongoing relocation of Buddhist way of life to the west.
Though Buddhism originated from India, it has spread across Asia within one thousand years. The art of Buddhism was originated from subcontinent of India following the Siddhartha Gautama historical life. Thereafter Buddhism developed through interacting with other cultures as it move within Asia and other parts of the world.
Buddhist art success in Japan, particularly sculpture, during the mid sixth century was because of Buddhism's transmission, first from Korea and later from China. At first Buddhism was received with some resistance, but later on it was acknowledged by Emperor Yomei, then it spread quickly under his son's support.
Traditionally, it is believed that Emperor Yomei was once very sick, but his son, Shotoku Taishi, who was a Buddhist, prayed for his father until Emperor Yomei health improved, since then Emperor Yomei converted to Buddhism (Wong, 2004).
Sources of Early Japanese Buddhist Sculpture
According to Wong (2004), Buddhism moved to Japan by water. It traveled on ships passing via the inland sea to Naniwa's port. The priests and artisans, who were visiting, plus Buddhist scriptures, ceremonial equipments, and images, moved up River Yamato to Yamato basin.
Japan first studied Buddhism from Korea, but the succeeding growth of Japanese Buddhist and Buddhism sculpture was initially influenced by China. Buddhism started in Japan when Korean's King sent Buddha statue, a number of Buddhist scriptures, and information that praises Buddhism to the Japanese court (Donaldson E.T. 2001).
Missionaries from China and Korea who arrived in Japan brought messages and rituals from schools of Theravada and Mahayana, but the form of Mahayana in particular struck harmony with its salvation's promise to both followers of monastic and laity alike. By the period of Nara, Buddhism was state creed.
The ancient missionaries and artisans brought also their arts and methods of remaking icons and sutras of Buddhist. The statues of gilt bronze of the Buddhist divinities emerged in huge number. It is not up to the late periods of Nara and early period of Heiana that wood gained dominance. The artwork of Buddhist during this early period and thereafter mostly belongs to the tradition of Mahayana, even though the artwork from traditions of Theravada and Vajirayana is still abundant.
Wood started to dominate in sculpture, and was always lacquered, covered or painted with gold, but at times left bare. In the late Heian period, Buddhist art of Japanese had basically separated itself from Tang China influence, and the right apogee of the Buddhist sculpture of Japanese was attained late in the era and onward into successive Kamakura era. Paintings by Japan's esoteric sects achieved huge popularity. A good example is the Mandala painting.
In the periods of Asuka and Nara, bronze statues that were covered with Gold were imported in huge number from China and Korea. They were later remade in court-sponsored workshops of Japan. The most famous sculpting materials were Bronze and Copper. Statues made from wood were also imported or imitated from Korean and Chinese forms. In the late seventh century wood statues were more popular than bronze sculpture.
Buddhist pictures of the Asuka era were created initially by Korea and China artisans who stayed in Japan. The era's normal works were the Tori-shiki pictures of the Shaka triad, Guze Kannon and several others. Tori-shiki sculpture was controlled by Northern Wei Kingdom of China.
Biswas (2009) argues that, the earliest sculpture of Japan was greatly controlled by the artistic shades of Wei kingdom of China. The kingdom featured crescent-shaped lips twisted upward, almond-shaped eyes, and symmetrically organized creases in the robes. The sculptures were also controlled by the inventive styles of Paekche and Silla kingdoms of Korea.
Buddhist's sculpture style created during the era of Korean history, when the Silla Dynasty overpowered the Koguryo and Paekje kingdoms and joined the Korean Peninsula. Japanese refers to this era as Shiragi Touitsu Jidai. The sculpture style was relative to that of Tang Dynasty china, mixed with attribute Silla Simplicity and calmness.
The statue that best represent this style is the stone sculpture that is referred as Keishuu Sekkutsuan in Japanese. Apart from stone sculptures, shiragibutsu were made also in gilt bronze. Most of them are small figures created in the late ninth centuries. Tang China Styles and techniques were also applied in this case.
Luczanits (2004) argues that, Asuka Dera is normally regarded as oldest temple of Japan. The temple houses what is said to be oldest Buddhist sculpture of Japan. Although the sculpture had undergone some repairs and modifications, its facial attributes and hands are still the same. This old Buddhist sculpture was created by a noted sculptor whose ancestors originated from China.
The Japanese sculptor, in the eleventh century, developed Yosegi-Zukuri into a clean Japanese style to fit the daily courtly taste. The Amida is the only remaining proof of his work. During the Gempei Wars several temples including the statues inside were destroyed. Kei School was then introduced. The school was headed by Kokei, Kokei's son Unkei, and disciple Kaikei. They managed a great recovery of Buddhist sculpture together with very few artists up to the end of the Edo era.
From the discussion, it is evident that all the Japanese statues originated from Korea and China. The Japanese have just modified the forms and names of these sculptures. Japanese do not have their original sculptural work. Though Japanese copied sculptural work from Korea and China, they are currently the most outstanding in Buddhist art.