OSAKA — For the Kudara Kannon statue of the Goddess of Mercy, 1997 was a busy year.Kudara Kannon, a national treasure belonging to Horyuji Temple in Ikaruga, Nara Prefecture, was displayed at the Louvre museum and at the Tokyo National Museum.Next autumn, a building specially designed to house the statue is scheduled to be completed on the compounds of the temple. “Once it is housed in the building, it will be difficult to take it out for display. Kudara Kannon has made its first and last big trip,” an official of the temple said.Kudara Kannon, with its slim proportions and mysterious smile, has an exotic air about it. The statue is believed to have been made during the Asuka Period (late sixth century to early seventh century). It was the first cultural property to be designated as a national treasure.Reportedly, the Cultural Affairs Agency asked Horyuji Temple whether it was possible to lend the statue to the Louvre toward the end of 1996 as part of an exchange of first-class art objects between the Japanese and French governments. “Since we were thinking of the safety of the temple’s treasure, it was hard to make up our minds. But we decided to lend the statue, hoping it will help promote an international exchange,” said Ryoshin Takada, head of the temple. The Louvre display was held Sept. 10 through Oct. 13 under the theme, “Kudara Kannon — Sculpture from Japan’s Ancient Times.”Every day, a large number of Parisians visited the museum to see the lighted statue. “The quiet countenance is splendid, and is a stark contrast to European sculpture. Inner peace flows out of the statue, making me gentle,” said a 26-year-old woman working at the Louvre.French President Jacques Chirac attended a Buddhist service held at the museum prior to the opening of the statue to the public. Chirac looked at the front, sides and back of the statue carefully, and asked Takada many questions. Because of his enthusiasm, the start of the service was delayed by about 20 minutes.Though the Kudara Kannon is well-known and popular, its roots are unclear. The statue first appears in documents of Horyuji Temple in the 17th century. There is a strong theory that the statue was brought from another temple.”Possibly, the statue was brought to this temple together with other treasures from the nearby Chuguji Temple, which deteriorated during the Middle Ages,” said Takada. The statue then did not have its current name. Tetsuro Watsuji, a former ethics scholar who lived from 1889 to 1960, first called the statue Kudara Kannon in his book “Koji Junrei” (“Pilgrimage to Ancient Temples”) and it came to be known by that name. Kudara is the name of an ancient Korean kingdom which existed from 371 to 660, and Kannon means the Goddess of Mercy.Until the middle of the Meiji Era (1868-1912), it was placed behind the Buddhist alter in the temple’s main building. For about 20 years after the end of the Meiji Era, it was in the Nara Imperial Museum. Because the statue was moved around, it was Horyuji Temple’s dream to have a building to house the statue.
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