My research focuses primarily on the urban and architectural history of Japan and eastern Asia to 1800, with interests extending to religion, material culture, and monumentalism in Japan and Southeast Asia.
Rifts in the Fabric of Buddhist Space-Time: A Hungry Ghost Scroll in the Kyoto National Museum
An examination of the 12th-century Hungry Ghost Scroll in the collection of the Kyoto National Museum reveals new ways to think about concepts of space and time in Buddhist cosmology. This essay examines that cosmology by exploring the special circumstances in which hungry ghosts gain access to food and water though savic acts. // From ‘Rifts in the Fabric of Buddhist Space-Time: A Hungry Ghost Scroll in the Kyoto National Museum, TAASA Review: The Journal of the Asian Arts Society of Australia, 31/4 (Dec. 2022).
Amulets and talismans are ubiquitous elements of Japan’s cultural landscape. Issued by temples and shrines throughout the archipelago, they can be found on prominent display in people’s homes and cars or dangling conspicuously from mobile phones and school bags. They come in every shape and size, ranging from small, intricately woven satchels to gaudy, highly reflective bumper stickers. Their efficacies are equally varied. Some protect their holders from disease or malevolent forces. Others guarantee traffic safety or success in romance and business. // From ‘Fractions of the Divine in Japanese History, TAASA Review: The Journal of the Asian Arts Society of Australia, 30/3 (Sep. 2021): 4-6.
The Shōkokuji pagoda was a breathtaking statement about the capacity of Ashikaga Yoshimitsu 足利義満 (1358-1408) to leverage the symbolic power of architecture and ritual pageantry to advance his political aims. It towered a staggering 109 meters above Kyoto's urban landscape and was decorated to represent a stacked mandala of the two realms (ryōkai mandara 両界曼荼羅). By building the structure, Yoshimitsu sought to create a context within which the symbols and rituals of Hindu-Buddhist kingship could be deployed to assert a status synonymous with dharma king (hōō 法皇). Find out more from this article in the Japanese Journal of Religious Studies, written with Tomishima Yoshiyuki 冨島義幸: http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/nfile/466
The strategic creation of palaces and temples helped Ashikaga Yoshimitsu 足利義満 (1358-1408) infiltrate and eventually dominate warrior, imperial, and religious spheres of influence in Kyoto. More important, he leveraged the allusive power of architecture and urban planning to forge an anthropocosmic connection between himself and the divine. I suggest that Yoshimitsu—like his counterparts in the premodern Buddhist centers of Angkor, Bagan, and Borobudur—sought to transform Japan’s medieval capital into an expression of sacred geography, thereby advancing his aim of attaining a status synonymous with dharma king. Find out more from this article in the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/682983
Kyoto: An Urban History of Japan's Premodern Capital (Univ. Hawai'i Press: 2014) explores Kyoto’s urban landscape across eight centuries, beginning with the city's foundation in 794 and concluding at the dawn of the early modern era in about 1600. www.kyotohistory.com
Recently, I've been exploring how medieval Japanese kingship followed a symbolic grammar similar to that of the great Hindu-Buddhist empires of Southeast Asia. Sprawling temple-palace complexes and monumental pagodas helped Japanese rulers—not necessarily emperors—assert an anthropocosmic connection between themselves and the divine. They legitimised their rule by drawing on foreign idioms of authority.
Search the Internet for a high resolution images of the Ryōkai-mandala, the mandalas of the two realms! Chances are that you won't find any good ones, until now!
These are scans of images on sale at the temple of Rengeōin in Kyoto.