Yakushiji Kichijoten zo (the Statue of Kichijoten at Yakushi-ji Temple) (薬師寺吉祥天像)

Yakushiji Kichijoten zo is a portrait of Kisshoten (Laksmi) from the Nara period and is a possession of the Yakushi-ji Temple in Nara prefecture. In 1951, the picture was designated one of the National Treasures of Japan. The portrait is also called 'Kichijo tennyo gazo' (portrait of Kichijo heavenly nymph).

The materials and the styles

The designated national treasure name is 'Mafuchakushoku kichijoten zo' (portrait of Kichijoten). The size is 53.0 by 31.7 centimeters. The picture was painted on a hemp cloth in a finished framing style. As to the Japanese picture method, most were painted on silk and paper. Although the use of hemp cloth as a canvass media was quite rare, there were several pictures on hemp cloth in Nara period: The statue of Bosatsu of the Shoso-in treasures and Shaka Ryojusen seppo zu (Shakamuni Preaching on Mt. Ryojusen, currently in the possession of the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston) was originally located in the Todai-ji Temple. The statue of Kichijoten zo, with both hands raised to chest height, holds the nyoi hoju (a sacred jewel, said to remove suffering, capable of granting every wish) in the left hand, expressing its figure by turning right to the viewers. Placed upon the statue's head was a circular halo. The hair of the statue was tied into a topknot, and dressed gorgeously with attached hair ornaments. As for the clothing of the statue, the upper part of the dress has a flowered cloth pattern of mainly light pink and vermilion colors. A mo (the skirt) is designed with a striped pattern of different colors, and the apron is designed with scattered diamond shaped ka-mon (flower patterns) on a green background. Hanging down from the tamoto (sleeve) of each arm is a fin-shaped decoration to the right and left of the apron, waving in the wind, expressing a depiction of the delicacy. The expressions in features of an S-shaped posture are illustrated evidence of the influence from the Tang Dynasty paintings in painting style.

The production period and the transmission

It is estimated that this work was produced as a statue for the principal image of Kichijokekae (reverence for devotional meetings). Kichijokekae started in Nara period, and it was a ceremony held at the imperial court and major temples at the beginning of the year to dedicate the Statue of Kisshoten. The function of this ceremony would allow the people to repent for sinful behavior, to wish prosperity for the nation, happiness to the citizens of the nation and to pray for bumper crops. In "the Shoku Nihongi" (Chronicle of Japan Continued), the record showed that Kichijokekae was held by Emperor Shotoku in 767. This picture was transferred in the Yasumigaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine, as a Chinju (local Shinto deity) in Yakushi-ji Temple, until 1868. The Hachiman-gu Shrine was transferred during Kanpyo era (889-898) of the early Heian Period, but the painting style of the picture was of an older period. It's estimated that the picture was produced around 771, when the Kichijokekae started at Yakushi-ji Temple.

While this picture is not usually open for public viewing, it will be enshrined in front of the Yakushi Sanzonzo (three statues that comprise the Yakushi Triad) of the Kon-do Hall (main hall of a Buddhist temple) at the Kichijokekae during the New Year ceremony (January 1st to 15th) and another special occasion, opening to a public exhibition of the Daihozoden (Treasure House) of Yakushi-ji Temple.