Daikokuten Iconography in Japan — From Hindu Destroyer to Buddhist Protector to Japanese Santa Claus. Over 300 annotated photos, copious reference notes, 47 slides. Oct. 2017.

October 4th, 2017

The main goal of Condensed Visual Classroom Guide — Daikokuten Iconography in Japan is to illustrate “visually” Japan’s taming of a demonic, bloodthirsty, flesh-eating, multi-limbed Vedic / Indic / Hindu deity. Today, this Hindu deity (Mahākāla, a “terrible” form of Śiva) is portrayed as a harmless, human-like, potbellied, jolly fellow in Japan’s religious pantheon. His Japanese name is Daikokuten. Today Daikokuten remains one of Japan’s most popular gods of good fortune (e.g., abundant harvests, well-stocked kitchens, lucrative livelihoods). In his standard modern form – portly, dwarfish, jovial, wearing a hat, holding a treasure sack, traveling everywhere to dispense fortune to the people – he is strikingly similar to the Christian world’s Santa Claus.  The second goal is to underscore the strong influence of India (rather than China) on Japan’s pantheon of gods. In many ways, the religious landscape in Japan is more akin to Japanese Hinduism than to Chinese Buddhism. The third goal is to provide scholars, art historians, curators, teachers, & students with a “jumpstart” visual guide to the richness & dynamic complexity of Japan’s religious art. Nearly two millennium of Śiva artwork is organized chronologically & thematically herein. Given space limits, the guide’s “visual canvas” includes art from only India, Central Asia, China, & Japan. Center stage is given to Japanese art from the 9th to 21st centuries.



Visual Primer on Chinese Buddhist Artwork – Sept. 2014

September 25th, 2014

This annotated visual tour features over 100 photos from China’s Mt. Tiāntái region, the home of Tiāntái Buddhism (originated late 6th century).  Tiāntái  is the first Chinese school to break significantly from the Indian tradition and therefore represents China’s earliest indigenous Buddhist system of thought.  The  Tiāntái school also became the foundation of important Buddhist schools in Korea and Japan. The slideshow’s cast of characters includes the Door Gods Ha (the Blower) and Heng (the Snorter), Vedic Sea Monsters, Rooftop Beasts, Four Heavenly Kings, Perfected Saints, Folk Gods, a Booze-Guzzling Drunk Monk, a Pot-Bellied Gate Guardian Serving as Lord of the Dinning Hall, a Carp Transforming into a Dragon, Magical Lions, and more. This cast of characters is found in myriad Chinese temples and thus serves as a microcosm of modern-day Chinese Buddhist artwork and faith. This slideshow is intended as a “primer” for students and teachers of Chinese Buddhist art and folklore. There are two versions.

  1. Fully annotated version includes explanatory notes, references for further study, and detailed captions.
  2. Minimally annotated version includes only captions. It is better suited for classroom presentation.
Sacred Icons from China's Mt. Tiāntái Region

Sacred Icons from China’s Mt. Tiāntái Region



Buddha of Medicine/Healing – Nov. 2013

November 16th, 2013

YAKUSHI NYORAI (Buddha of Medicine and Healing). This 18-page report features over 50 photos and numerous manifestations of Yakushi in Japan, including Yakushi’s role in curing life-threatening illnesses and eye ailments,  and in granting “this-worldly” benefits. The devotional cult of Yakushi was one of the first to develop in Japan after Buddhism’s introduction to the Japanese archipelago in the mid-sixth century. Concrete evidence of Yakushi’s worship on Japanese soil dates from the late seventh century. This report relies heavily on the research of scholar Yui Suzuki, an associate professor at the University of Maryland. This primer also includes five side pages that explore Yakushi’s twelve vows while still a bodhisattva as well as Yakushi’s twelve warrior generals (Jūni Shinshō) and two attendants (Nikkō & Gakkō). Enjoy.


Yakushi Nyorai, the Buddha of Medicine and Healing


VIDEO. Length = 5.44 minutes. 15th-16th century Niō statues on the world art market. Join Mark Schumacher as he explores the iconography of the Niō guardians at Tōdaiji Temple, Nara, Japan. Promotional video for the auction of a Muromachi-period set of Niō temple guardians that are modeled/styled after the famous Niō pair at Tōdaiji Temple. The auction site is here.