Earthen image (塑像)

The term earthen image means images of which the material is clay. Unlike terra cotta, a firing process is not involved in producing them. Earthen images were introduced from Tang into Japan in the early Nara period and many images were produced in the late Nara period. The producing process employed winding straw ropes around wooden mandrel, heaping up coarse-grained barren soil followed by fine-particle finishing soil and molding by a pallet or the fingers.

Existent Principal Earthen Images in Japan

The seated statue of Miroku Buddha, which is the principal image of Buddha at Kondo (main hall) of Taima-dera Temple in Nara, was produced in the late 7th century and is believed to be the oldest earthen image in Japan. Most of the earthen images were produced in the Nara period and few were produced in Heian period or later (mainly after 9th century) when wood carvings became the mainstream in sculpture society. Well-known products, especially those designated as national treasures, are as follows.

Early Nara Period

The seated statue of Miroku Buddha (Maitreya) at Kondo of Taima-dera Temple (Nara Prefecture)

Late Nara Period

The seated statue of Nyoirin Kannon (the Bodhisattva of Compassion) enshrined at Ryugai-ji Temple (Nara Prefecture) - its height is 4.6 m and it is the tallest earthen image in Japan

A group of earthen images enshrined in the first layer of Gojuno-to (five-storey pagoda) of Horyu-ji Temple (Nara Prefecture)

The standing statue of Kongo Rikishi (the guardian gods at a temple gate) enshrined at Chumon (inner gate) of Horyu-ji Temple

The standing statue of Shitenno (the Four Devas) and the standing statue of Bonten (Brahma-Deva) and Taishakuten (Sakra devanam Indra) that were once enshrined at Jikido (dining hall) of Horyu-ji Temple

The standing statue of Junishinsho (the twelve protective deities) enshrined at Shinyakushi-ji Temple (Nara Prefecture)

The standing statue of Shukongoshin (vajra-wielding gods), the standing statue of Nikko Bosatsu (Nikko Bosatsu (Bodhisattva of Sunlight)) and Gakko Bosatsu (Gakko Bosatsu (Bodhisattva of Moonlight)) and the standing statue of Benzaiten (Sarasvati, Buddhist goddess of music, learning, eloquence, wealth, longevity, and protection from natural disasters) and Kisshoten (Laksmi) that are enshrined at Hokkedo (Sangatsudo) of Todai-ji Temple

The standing statue of Shitenno enshrined at Kaidanin of Todai-ji Temple.

The incomplete remains of the statue of Three Buddha enshrined at Tenpuku-ji Temple (Usa City)

Heian Period

The seated statue of Dosen-Risshi (Buddhist priest) enshrined at Yumedono of Horyu-ji Temple

The seated statue of Miroku Buddha enshrined at Koryu-ji Temple (Kyoto City)

Principal Earthen Statues that were Excavated

The site of the abolished Saino-ji Temple (Kotoura-cho Town)

The site of the abolished Kamiyodo-ji Temple (Yonago City)

The site of the abolished Sanno-ji Temple (Maebashi City)