The Journey

Zao Gongen

  • 45
  • Japan
  • Kamakura period, 13th century
  • Iron
  • H. 12 1/2 x W. 6 1/2 x D. 3 3/4 in. (31.75 x 16.5 x 9.5 cm)
  • John C. Weber Collection
  • Mount Ishizuchi
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Zao Gongen is the protective deity of Shugendo, a syncretic Japanese religious cult. Originally a nameless Shinto deity worshipped on Mount Kinpu, he came to be perceived as a manifestation of both the historical Buddha and the future Buddha, and his cult spread among the aristocracy. In this sculpture, Zao (King of the Diamond World) springs forth from a rock (the mountaintop). "Gongen" indicates that he is the Buddhist manifestation of a local Shinto deity. Cast on the back of the sculpture's rock base are the characters for "Ishizuchi Betsuin," meaning adjunct or branch temple for Mount Ishizuchi, the highest mountain on the island of Shikoku and long a Shugendo pilgrimage site. Pilgrims pull themselves up the last section of the peak by chains.

PHOTO CREDIT: John Bigelow Taylor

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