Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

The Reproduction of Engi and Memorial Offerings: Multiple Generations of the Ashikaga Shoguns and the Yuzu Nenbutsu Engi Emaki

Academic journal article Japanese Journal of Religious Studies

The Reproduction of Engi and Memorial Offerings: Multiple Generations of the Ashikaga Shoguns and the Yuzu Nenbutsu Engi Emaki

Article excerpt

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The Y?z? nenbutsu engi emaki ... was created near the end of the Kamakura period in 1314 (Sh?wa ... 3), and then reproduced on an ongoing basis from the Northern and Southern Courts period through the Muromachi. Today more than ten copies are preserved; these form an important group of works that have drawn the attention of scholars of art, literature, and religion (for important studies, see Iwahashi 1931; Tashiro 1976; Matsubara 1991; Uchida 1997; It? 2000; and Abe 2013). Although its title includes the word ?engi,? in terms of content, the Y?z? nenbutsu engi emaki differs significantly from illustrated handscrolls whose narratives conform to the jisha engi stereotype by explaining the founding of a temple or shrine, or the miracles worked by an icon of a buddha or kami. In this engi, the first half of the narrative takes the form of a biography of an eminent monk, namely Ry?nin ... (1073-1132), who originated the practice of the y?z? nenbutsu. The second half, which is set in the years following Ry?nin's death, enumerates the various blessings enjoyed by people of both high and low status by virtue of the merit of nenbutsu practice.

The Y?z? nenbutsu engi emaki evinces a number of striking characteristics. That it was repeatedly copied throughout the Muromachi period speaks to its continuity. The scrolls also have a strong collective quality: under the leadership of the Ashikaga shoguns, luminaries such as retired emperors and senior nobles produced the calligraphy for the text (kotobagaki ...) of the extant versions, while multiple painters collaborated to produce the illustrations. Furthermore, the scrolls have a documentary character due to the fact that the kotobagaki record the dates upon which they were inscribed. Finally, in terms of format, the scrolls are decidedly multifarious: although they were initially produced as conventional handwritten and hand-painted manuscripts, they were subsequently printed, and then converted back into manuscript form.

In this article, I demonstrate on a case-by-case basis that the various copies of the Y?z? nenbutsu engi emaki were produced to generate posthumous merit for the Ashikaga shoguns, men who were known in their own day as the Muromachi-dono ... As Abe Mika (2013) has pointed out, the scrolls functioned in part as fundraising registers (kanjinch? ...) among devotees of the y?z? nenbutsu, and the Ashikaga shoguns certainly saw themselves as grand patrons. The use of engi in funerary rites, however, seems to have been quite rare. Whatever the motivations of the shoguns and their family members may have been, their repeated engagement with the Y?z? nenbutsu engi emaki is a striking case of the ritual use of engi, as well as of the production of engi as ritual objects.

The Contents of the Y?z? nenbutsu engi emaki and its Reproduction

Extant versions of the Y?z? nenbutsu engi emaki can be divided into three groups. The first is known as the Sh?wa group because it stems from an original dating to 1314 (Sh?wa 3). The second is the Ry?chin holograph kanjin group, which was created during the Northern and Southern Courts period in the context of kanjin campaigns conducted by Ry?chin ... (n.d.) between 1381 and 1387. The third is comprised of printed versions of the engi, which were first produced in the course of Ry?chin's kanjin in 1391 (Meitoku ... 2): these are known as the Meitoku print group. Through his involvement in the production of multiple, even printed, versions of the engi, Ry?chin promoted the Y?z? nenbutsu engi emaki throughout the country and increased the number of those with karmic connections to the nenbutsu (nenbutsu no kechiensha ...). The goal was to pray for rebirth in the Pure Land, a pattern we also see in kanjin campaigns at Taimadera ... a famous center for Pure Land devotion in Yamato, where the names of more than 2,150 kechiensha were inscribed on the cabinet (zushi ...) built in 1242 to store the Taima mandala . …

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