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SHOSO-IN SPECIAL / A precious collection of ancient artifacts

Shikko Hei
41.3 centimeters high, 18.9 centimeters in diameter (the body)

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe 68th Annual Exhibition of Shoso-in Treasures will give visitors some insight into the cultural fusion between the East and West that flourished along the ancient Silk Road trade route. Also evoking the solemn atmosphere of Buddhist services at Todaiji temple in Nara, the show will be held at the Nara National Museum from Oct. 22 to Nov. 7 and features 64 objects from the collection of the Shoso-in repository — including nine items on display at the annual exhibition for the first time.

The Shoso-in repository is located near the Great Buddha Hall at Todaiji temple. Its collection of ancient artifacts started about 1,250 years ago. Most of the collection items have been preserved intact, and the annual exhibition is a valuable opportunity to appreciate some of these treasures.

The collection includes many items produced by skilled artisans, and their elaborate designs, sophisticated motifs and innovative techniques continue to influence craftspeople today.

The exhibition attracts many visitors each year, with an average of about 13,000 people visiting per day last year.

Beautiful lacquered jug

The spout resembles the head of a bird and the delicate, ear-shaped handle forms a graceful curve. This kind of zoomorphic design was popular during the Sasanian dynasty, from the third to seventh centuries in Persia. The “Shikko Hei” jug is one of the Shoso-in treasures that will be on display at this year’s exhibition.

The lacquered wooden jug is decorated with thin silver motifs depicting various kinds of flora and fauna. Using the heidatsu technique from China’s Tang dynasty, the design was created by pasting patterns of thin silver foil on the surface.

An X-ray taken by the Imperial Household Agency’s Office of the Shosoin Treasure House also reveals use of the kentai technique — to form the shape of the vessel, thin layers of wood resembling strips of tape were wound together.

“The shape has its origin in Persia and the kentai technique originated in Southeast Asia. The jug also bears designs of plants found in the grasslands of Central Asia. Bringing together elements from various countries, this jug is typical of Shoso-in treasures,” said Prof. Shunichi Sekine of Nara University, a craft history expert.

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  • This X-ray photo of the “Shikko Hei” jug shows a silhouette of patterns made with thin silver inlays. Close inspection reveals faint horizontal lines on the body that indicate the jug was made using the kentai technique.

  • Torikiishi Kyokechi no Byobu (Screen 1)
    148.7 centimeters high, 53.7 centimeters wide

  • Torikiishi Kyokechi no Byobu (Screen 2)
    148.7 centimeters high, 53.7 centimeters wide

  • Ge no Kushi
    10.2 centimeters long (one of three on display)

The “Torikiishi Kyokechi no Byobu” screens on display this year depict long-tailed birds under trees. The symmetrical motif was made using the traditional kyokechi dyeing technique of clamping a cloth tightly between two wooden boards into which designs have been cut, and then pouring dye onto the cloth through holes.

Three ivory combs, called “Ge no Kushi,” will also be on display. Each of a similar shape and size, they have more than 120 teeth — 10 or more thin teeth per centimeter. Produced with a sophisticated technique, these combs are believed to have been imported from China.Speech

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