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While a golden age for secular arts, Japan’s Edo Period (1603-1867) is broadly dismissed by art historians as a period of stagnation for Buddhist sculpture. Although some scholars have challenged this view, the craftsmen who created religious imagery at that time remain in the shadow of their artistic forbearers.

A notable exception to this is the priest-sculptor Enku (1632-1695), whose roughly hewn wooden sculptures are the subject of a new exhibition at the Tokyo National Museum. The exhibition comprises 100 statues from Buddhist and local folk belief, ranging from a few centimeters to over two meters in height. Of these, 61 are from Senkoji Temple in Takayama City, Gifu Prefecture, where Enku stayed during the mid-1680s.

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