Shosoin exhibits include board game with mythical flying birds carrying human


Shitan Mokuga no Sugoroku Kyoku (Shosoin Repository)

Shitan Mokuga no Sugoroku Kyoku (Shosoin Repository)

Shosoin Exhibition highlights imaginary world

The Yomiuri Shimbun

OSAKA–The rich and elaborate culture of the Nara period (710-794) will be seen once again with 69 items selected from the Shoso-in treasure repository on display at the 60th Annual Exhibition of Shoso-in Treasures from Oct. 25 to Nov. 10.

A highlight of this year’s exhibition is a work of rich imagination and sophisticated artistry, the “Shitan Mokuga no Sugoroku Kyoku” game board covered with shitan (red sandalwood). A mythical flying bird with a human figure on its back is depicted on the side of the game board.

The game board, with ivory and antler inlay in the form of arabesques, flowers and flying birds, is believed to have been brought from the Tang dynasty (early 7th century to early 10th century) in China, by Kentoshi, official Japanese delegates to the country.

The mythical bird and human figure seem to represent exchanges between the East and West via the Silk Road.

The techniques used to inlay these materials on the board has developed into those used for mosaic crafts today.

Mythical birds are also depicted in “Sansui Jinbutsu Choju Hai no Enkyo,” a round cupronickel mirror decorated on its back with a scene of fishermen on a boat and waterfowl with horns and rabbitlike ears frolicking among the waves.


Other items include “Kurogaki no Ryomen Zushi,” a cabinet of black persimmon wood with a front and back door, a convenient invention from ancient times.

Kokucho no Shakuhachi (Shosoin Repository)

Kokucho no Shakuhachi (Shosoin Repository)

Among the treasures on display cherished by Emperor Shomu is “Kokucho no Shakuhachi,” a bamboo flute with decorative engraving.

The 43.7-centimeter-long, 2.3 centimeter-diameter flute is engraved with images of four women picking flowers or playing the biwa lute, and designs of flowers, butterflies and birds.

The intricate design over the length of the instrument’s surface is said to have been popular when Wu Zetian, a Chinese empress regnant between the late 7th century and early 8th century. The design also reflects the elegant daily lives of the court ladies.

Hei Raden Hai no Hakkaku Kyo (Shosoin Repository)

Hei Raden Hai no Hakkaku Kyo (Shosoin Repository)

“Hei Raden Hai no Hakkaku Kyo,” an eight-lobed bronze mirror decorated on the back with mother-of-pearl inlay, bears the image of Hosoge, a mythical flower. On the mirror’s base, which is embedded with turquoise, the flowers are shaped by mother-of-pearl inlay of Yakogai, a kind of green turban shell, and red amber. The mirror was also cherished by Emperor Shomu.

The engraving techniques on these items allow for lines that are as fine as a strand of hair.




Source: Exhibition highlights imaginary world (The Yomiuri Shimbun Sep. 26 2008)

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