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Art Historian Abroad: Rachel Smith

J A P A N  E X T R A O R D I N A I R E !

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Rachel outside of Ibaraki, Osaka

Maybe going to Japan in the middle of the rainy season was a mistake. Against my expectations, the rainy season for the three weeks I spent in Japan, travelling from Tokyo to the Kansai area (home to Kyoto and Osaka) was remarkably dry, but I felt like I was constantly sweating because of the 100% humidity and bright sun. However, I found the museum, temple, and archival resources satiated my basic questions about the “Kawaguchi Amida”, an early 17th-century wooden statue of the Amida Buddha used by Japanese Christians during the period of severe anti-Christian persecution. What I think I’ll remember the most though is the kindness of the people I encountered who graciously helped me find my way around and with my research.

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The “Kawaguchi Amida”

The first incident is when I went to Chotokuji, a temple in Kawaguchi City of Saitama Prefecture north of Tokyo and the temple served by a priest named Kansho who likely safeguarded and concealed the “Kawaguchi Amida”. After asking a Chotokuji priest how to get to the Nyoirin Kannon Hall, the former home of the “Kawaguchi Amida”, he asked a younger monk to give me a ride to the hall since it was a bit far. We talked about the monk’s hometown Kyoto on the way to the Nyoirin Kannon Hall. As a Buddhist hall privately managed by the neighborhood, I did not expect to see the interior of the Nyoirin Kannon Hall, but to my luck and surprise, a group of elderly women were eating snacks and chatting when the monk and I arrived. They invited me inside and showed me the replica of the “Kawaguchi Amida” and other images enshrined in the hall. Thanks to everyone’s kindness, I was able to take some good pictures of the interior of the Nyoirin Kannon Hall and understand the arrangement of zushi, votive shrines that can hold Buddhist images. Unfortunately, because I was too excited about getting pictures of the inside of the hall, I forgot to get good pictures of the hall exterior. Several days later, I traveled back to Saitama City to an arranged viewing of the original “Kawaguchi Amida” and the inserted Maria Kannon and crucifix at the Saitama Prefectural Museum of History and Folklore. Curator Nonaka Hitoshi and assistant curator Takehara Aoi assisted with the viewing which lasted nearly two hours, ensuring that I was able to take all of the photographs I needed, and answering my endless questions about motifs. I am grateful for their support and enthusiasm.

My trip to Kyoto and Osaka was not as fruitful in information or resources. However, I had an interesting trip to a rural area outside of Ibaraki, north of Osaka, where many underground Christians lived during the Edo period (1603-1868) and the home to a small museum of Christian objects. This was my first time going to the countryside of Japan, and while it felt a bit lonely, it was breathtakingly beautiful and much more green and quiet compared to the big cities.

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