Kudara Kannon (wooden statue of Kannon Bosatsu [Buddhist Goddess of Mercy]) (百済観音)

Kudara Kannon is a wooden statue of Kannon Bosatsu (Buddhist Goddess of Mercy) which was made during the Asuka period (from the mid until the late seventh century) and is owned by Horyu-ji Temple in Ikaruga-cho, Nara Prefecture. It was designated a national treasure of Japan (designated under the name 'One Statue of Mokuzo Kannon Bosatsu Ryu-zo' [one wooden standing statue of Kannon Bosatsu] [Kudara Kannon]). It is valued as an old example of wooden Buddhist sculptures in Japan; after the Taisho period, it was introduced in writings such as "Koji Junrei" (A pilgrimage to ancient temples) by Tetsuro WATSUJI and "Yamato Koji Fubutsushi" (Pilgrimage to the ancient temples of Yamato) by Katsuichiro KAMEI and became well-known.


210.9 cm (according to the pictorial records of "Special Exhibition of Kudara Kannon", etc. and '209.4 cm' according to another material.)

Date of creation and the artist

According to a popular theory, it was made in the Asuka period, from the middle until the late seventh century. The artist is unknown.

Statue form

Standing upright on a plane, pentagon-shaped kaeribanaza (inverted flower seat, a pedestal shaped like a turned lotus flower). It is notably slim compared to usual Buddhist statues, with a small head, and almost an eight-head figure. The right arm is bent at the elbow almost squarely, with the lower arm thrust horizontally toward onlookers, and the palm turned upward (holding no jibutsu [the hand-held attributes of a Buddhist image]). The left hand is drooping and bent slightly forward at the elbow in such a way that the back of the statue's hand faces the onlookers, holding a water jar. The lower body is covered with mo (a long pleated skirt) and draped over with tenne (feather-robe, a thin strip of cloth worn by Buddhist statues and statues of tennin [heavenly beings]). Tenne is crossed before the thighs, then hangs on both arms and down both sides of the body. The hair of the head is done up in the style of motodori (hair tied together), the long hair hanging down both shoulders. It is adorned with a crown, necklace, upper arm bracelet, and bracelet, etc., all of which are especially made of copper by openwork carving. The halo is in the shape of a lotus flower, with hachiyorenge (a kind of lotus flower) shown in the center and surrounded by a pattern of concentric circles, with the outer margins representing a flame pattern. The support of halo is made of wood representing bamboo, and a decoration of mountains is carved on the base of the halo. On the pedestal, there is a two-stage kamachi (a frame) below the above-described pentagonal kaeribanaza.

Materials of construction

It is ichiboku-zukuri (wooden figure carved of one tree) carved out of a single camphor tree (most wooden statues during the Asuka period are made of camphor trees), from which the base part consisting of the head and body, the renniku (lotus center) (the interior part of the pedestal) at the foot, and the two hozo (the handle of tools) underneath are all carved out. The parts of both arms from the elbows up, motodori on the head, and tenne hanging on the sides of the body, etc. are made from other materials attached to the main body. The water jar held on the left hand is made of other material, this one being Japanese cypress. The surface of the statue is painted with kanshitsu (dry lacquer, made by mixing lacquer with wood powder and powdered leaves of conifer) to finish the details. Although the surface of the statue was colored, the color is peeled off for the most part and the original color remains unclear. The inside of the statue is hollowed from the breast down (the inside is hollowed for the purpose of lightening the weight and of preventing mud cracks of the statue). Since an X-ray image shows a vertical seam on the side of main body, it is assumed that the statue, which was originally made of a single tree, was split into two at the back and belly and then hollowed.


It is enshrined in Kudara Kannon-do Hall of Daihozoin (Great Treasure Gallery) of Horyu-ji Temple. It was enshrined in the north face of the Kondo (golden hall) during the early part of the Meiji period; from the late part of the Meiji period until the early part of the Showa period, it was deposited in the Imperial Household Museum of Nara (present Nara National Museum).


Since old records of Horyu-ji Temple contain no description about this statue, it is assumed that the statue was not in the Horyu-ji Temple since its construction but was transferred from another temple in later years. Although there are many theories regarding when, from which temple, and for what reason the statue was transferred, the truth remains unclear.

Designation as a cultural property

On December 28, 1897, it was designated a national treasure under the Ancient Temples and Shrines Protection Law as 'One Statue of Kanzeon Bosatsu Kanshitsu Ritsuzo (one dry lacquered standing statue of Kanzeon Bosatsu) (according to a legend, the work of someone of an ancient Korean kingdom [Paekche or Kudara])' (equivalent to an 'important cultural property' under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties).
On June 9, 1951, it was designated a national treasure under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties as 'One Statue of Mokuzo Kannon Bosatsu Ryu-zo.'

Kudara Kannon according to records of Horyu-ji Temple

According to "Horyu-ji Shizai Cho" (Note of materials of Horyu-ji Temple), which existed from 747 and comprises the foundational materials of Horyu-ji Temple, no mention is made about a Buddha statue corresponding to Kudara Kannon.

The "Kondo Nikki" (Daily record of main temple structure), which was established in the late 11th century, contains a detailed description of Buddha statues which were enshrined in Kondo (the Golden Pavilion) of the Horyu-ji Temple at the time, but even here no mention is made about Kudara Kannon; similarly, "Shotoku Taishi Denshiki" (The private recollections on the life of Prince Shotoku) written by Kenshin, a monk of Horyu-ji Temple during the Kamakura period, does not mention Kudara Kannon.

It is only in early-modern times that a statue which seems to correspond to Kudara Kannon can be confirmed in a historical record. It is assumed that the mention of 'Kokuzo Ryu-zo (Standing statue of Kokuzo), seven shaku and five bu in height' in "Horyu-ji Shodo Butsutai Suryoki" (Record of the number of Buddha at several halls of Horyu-ji Temple) in 1698 refers to Kudara Kannon, as judged from the height of the statue, and this is considered the oldest literature recording the existence of Kudara Kannon.

According to "Horyu-ji Shodo Butsutai Suryoki", this 'Kokuzo Bosatsu-zo' (statue of Akasagarbha Bodhisattva) is the 'Indian statue which was introduced from Kudara no kuni (Paekche).'
The "Kokon Ichiyo Shu" (literally, collection of all ages, one sun) written in 1746 by Ryokin, a monk at Horyu-ji Temple, also mentions 'Kokuzo Bosatsu', indicating that 'the origin of this statue is not mentioned in ancient records, but elders tell us that it is a statue brought over from a foreign country'; this tells us that the origin of this statue was already unclear at the time. One theory has it that the old location of this statue was Tachibana-dera Temple in Asuka ("Horyu-ji Okagami" [The Great Art of the Horyu-ji Temple], 1917), and according to a theory by Ryoshin TAKADA (the 208th kannushi [Shinto priest] of Horyu-ji Temple), it was transferred from Chugu-ji Temple in Ikaruga (a town in Ikoma County, Nara Prefecture), among other theories; yet none of them is confirmed and it remains completely unclear how, when, and by whom this statue was made, and in which temple it was enshrined.

The name 'Kudara Kannon'

Since the early-modern times until the Meiji period, this statue was called 'Kokuzo Bosatsu' instead of Kannon at Horyu-ji Temple. This is probably based on the religion in which Kokuzo Bosatsu was the honji (original ground or true nature) of Prince Shotoku.

The list, which was compiled when research was conducted on treasures of Horyu-ji Temple by the Imperial Household Ministry, Ministry of Interior, and Ministry of Education in 1886, indicated 'Korean-style Kannon'; this tells us that there was a theory according to which this statue was considered 'Kannon' since around this time. Although it is not certain, it is assumed that the name of this 'Korean-style Kannon' was invented by Tenshin OKAKURA, who was researching cultural properties in the Nara area at the time.
As described above, when this statue was designated a national treasure in 1897, the name given was also 'Kanzeon Bosatsu.'
However, Horyu-ji Temple was committed to using the name 'Kokuzo Bosatsu', and on April 14, 1905, a request for changing the name from 'Kanzeon' to 'Kokuzo' was submitted to the Governor of Nara Prefecture of the time, but the temple's request was not granted.
Later, in 1911, a crown of this statue was newly discovered from dozo (warehouse made of soil) in the temple; since Kebutsu (the Artificial Buddha, a small-sized statue of Buddha) of Amida Nyorai (Amitabha Tathagata) was engraved at the front of the crown, the temple had to acknowledge that the statue was 'Kannon Bosatsu' (if there was Kebutsu of Amida Nyorai on the head of a statue of Bosatsu, then it meant that the statue was that of Kannon Bosatsu.)

The name 'Kudara Kannon', which became well-known as the popular name of this statue after the 20th century, is not very old; it is said that the name was first used in the commentary of "Horyu-ji Okagami" in 1917. The "Koji Junrei" by Tetsuro WATSUJI, which was published in 1919, calls this statue 'Kudara Kannon', maybe as influenced by the description of "Horyu-ji Okagami". In 1926, an archaeologist called Seiryo HAMADA (Kosaku HAMADA) presented 'Kudara Kannon-zo' (Statue of Kudara Kannon) on a journal titled "Buddhist Art", and gave the title "Kudara Kannon" to the collection of essays which was later presented. In this manner, the name 'Kudara Kannon' became gradually rooted for this statue.


This statue has a different style from that of Buddha statues that are Tori-Shiki (Tori style), such as the Shaka Sanzon-zo (the statues of Shakyamuni triads), honzon (principal image of Buddha) of the Kondo of Horyu-ji Temple. Buddha statues of Tori-Shiki have a significant level of contemplation from the front, with little consideration given to the lateral side; as such, the statues are strongly symmetrical, and while there are unique features with the diagrammatic expression of clothes and the like, the lateral side of Kudara Kannon statue is more natural, with further understanding of the form of the human body. When looking at the Kuze Kannon-zo (statue of Kuze Kannon) at honzon of Yumedono (Hall of Dreams) of Horyu-ji Temple, which is considered a work of seven centuries earlier, overall frontality and symmetry are prominent, with the long flowing hair on the shoulders having the diagrammatic style called 'warabite-jo' (literally, having the form of upturned bracken ferns), and the tenne hanging from both arms down the sides of the body spreads flatly in left and right directions, showing fin-like protrusions. On the contrary, the long flowing hair of Kudara Kannon-zo is expressed more realistically, with tenne depicted as swinging back and forth with a gentle curve; as such, the graceful curve of tenne can be acknowledged only when viewed from the side. The fingers of both hands all draw different curves, expressing a realistic representation. Based on these points, researchers agree on the most part that while Kudara Kannon-zo was made at a later time than the statue at the honzon of Yumedono and others, it is older than the Sho Kannon-zo (statue of Sho Kannon) at Yakushi-ji Temple Toin-do and Yume-Chigai Kannon-zo (statue of Yume-Chigai Kannon) at Horyu-ji Temple, among others, which show the influence of the sculpture of the early Tang period, and that it is the work of roughly around the middle to late seventh century. However, there are many theories as to where to seek the roots of the style of this statue, none of which is established. On one hand, there is a theory (as supported by Takeshi KUNO, Saburo MATSUBARA, etc.) according to which the style of the Southern Dynasty of the Northern and Southern Dynasties in China influenced the style of this statue; on the other hand, there is a theory (as supported by Teruo UENO, Seiichi MIZUNO, etc.) according to which the roots of the style are with the Buddha statues of Northern Qi, Northern Zhou, and Sui Dynasties. According to the latter theory, statues of the early seventh century, such as the Shaka Sanzon-zo of Kondo of Horyu-ji Temple, are regarded as having their roots in the style of the Northern Wei Dynasty, and the statues with further understanding of three-dimensional space are regarded as having been influenced by Northern Qi, Northern Zhou, and Sui Dynasties that are dated later in history.

Influence on Japanese culture

The unique style of this statue as well as its mysterious introduction, among other factors, aroused the interest of many people; they are often used as the subject of essays and tanka (thirty-one syllables' poem) and the like, and are highly praised. Tetsuro WATSUJI made remarks in "Koji Junrei" (1919) about this statue, which was deposited at the Imperial Household Museum of Nara. He stated that this statue has 'broad and immeasurable implication', and that the roots of the style date back to Gandhara of India. Katsuichiro KAMEI acclaimed this statue as being like 'eternal flame blazing from the earth' in "Yamato Koji Fubutsushi" (1943). People such as Yaichi AIZU, Hideo YOSHINO, and Isamu YOSHII produced tanka which featured Kudara Kannon; many other writers took up this statue as a subject of their works.

In 1997, a special exhibition on Kudara Kannon was held at the Louvre Museum in Paris. From 1997 until 1999, under the concepts of 'Japanese years in France' and 'French years in Japan', many commemorative ceremonies took place in both countries; it was decided that one work of art, of the level of a national treasure, of each country be exhibited, and Kudara Kannon from Japan and a representative work by Eugene de La Croix titled "La Liberte guidant le people" were selected.

[Original Japanese]