Treasures of the Shoso-in hoard on display

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The 66th annual exhibition of important cultural artifacts from the Shoso-in treasure house opened to the public on Friday with 59 items on display, including over a half dozen appearing for the first time.

Included in the displays of artifacts from the Nara Period (710-794) are a series of folding screens known as “torige ritsujo no byobu” (folding screen panels with bird feathers), which feature women of the period under a tree in clothing adorned with feathers.

Up to six of the screens are believed to have been displayed in the bedroom of Emperor Shomu (701-756). Four are on display in Nara and the other two will be shown at the Tokyo National Museum.

Other items include a pair of large red leather ceremonial shoes worn by Emperor Shomu at the consecration ceremony for the Great Buddha at Todaiji Temple in 752. Two pieces of furniture he used, including a “gosho” (Japanese cypress bed frame) and a “shitanmokuga no kyoshoku” (red sandalwood armrest) are also on display.

Japan argues Nara was the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, and Shoso-in holds many artifacts that came from as far away as the Eastern Roman Empire. One on display is the “haku-ruri no hei” (white glass ewer), which is thought to have come from the Middle East, probably Iran, Iraq, or Syria.

From China, a rare round-bodied lute, called a “kuwanoki no genkan” (mulberry wood lute) is one of the more popular attractions. Only two are believed to exist and both are in the Shoso-in collection.

Also on display is a red “suikoju” mask of a drunken foreigner, used in “gigaku” dance dramas during Buddhist festivities.

The Shoso-in exhibits are among the most popular in the nation. Museum officials said they expect up to 300,000 visitors.

The exhibition runs until Nov. 12, longer than usual, officials added, to commemorate the 80th birthdays of the Emperor and Empress.

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