Swords lost since 760 ‘found’ at Todaiji

Kyodo

Two swords found under the Great Buddha of Todaiji Temple in the Meiji Era have been identified as sacred swords that had been missing for some 1,250 years since around 760 after Empress Komyo, the wife of Emperor Shomu, who built the Buddha, dedicated them along with other items to the temple, the temple said Monday.

The swords, decorated with gold, silver and lacquer, appear on the top of about 100 swords in the weapon list of the Kokka Chimpo Cho (book of national treasures to Todaiji) kept at the Shosoin repository at the temple. They are considered important historical materials.

The swords were discovered at the end of the Meiji Era (1868-1912) along with other items, including a silver pot near the pedestal on which the Great Buddha sits when three holes were created nearby for research purposes, and were designated together as national treasures in 1930.

When maintenance workers recently took an X-ray of the swords, they found the inscriptions “Yoken” and “Inken” on the blades, which indicate the swords are highly likely those called “Yohoken” and “Inhoken” that the Empress dedicated in 756 at a memorial service for the Emperor, who died earlier in the year.

The swords were likely removed from the Shosoin treasure list at the request of the Empress and buried in the location where they were found.

The discovery nonetheless begs the question why Empress Komyo, who died in 760, bothered to remove them from the treasure list and buried them under the foot of the Great Buddha, experts say.

Ikuo Mori, an expert in historical archaeology and an honorary professor at Tezukayama University in Nara, said he believes the Empress did so “hoping that the Buddha hall would last forever.”