Period: Nara period (710–794)
Date: ca. 764–70
Medium: Japanese cypress (hinoki) and Cleyera ochnacea (sakaki)
Dimensions: H. 8 1/4 in. (21 cm); Diam. 4 in. (10.2 cm)
Credit Line: The Harry G. C. Packard Collection of Asian Art, Gift of Harry G. C. Packard, and Purchase, Fletcher, Rogers, Harris Brisbane Dick, and Louis V. Bell Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, 1975
Accession Number: 1975.268.150a, b
This miniature wooden pagoda, which was originally painted white, is identical to the thousands displayed today at the Treasure House of Hōryūji temple in Nara. Historical information on these small pagodas is found in two sources: the Shoku Nihongi (History of Japan Continued, 797) and the Tōdaiji yōroku (Chronicles of Tōdaiji, 1134). According to these documents, Empress Kōken, who reigned from 749 to 758 and again from 765 to 769 as Empress Shōtoku, ordered the production of one million tiny scrolls printed with magical Buddhist incantations, each one enshrined in a miniature pagoda. The project, commissioned as an act of atonement, was completed in 770, at which time 100,000 scrolls and pagodas were distributed to each of the ten major Buddhist temples in Nara. Surprisingly, only Hōryūji still houses these royal gifts.