Standing Jikokuten

  • End of Heian to Early Kamakura period, 12th century
  • Wood with pigments
  • Figure height 170.7 cm
  • Handed down in Kōfukuji
  • Formerly in the collection of Masuda Donnō
  • Important Cultural Propert

The Shitennō or “Four Heavenly Kings” are martial deities responsible for defending Buddhism in the four directions. One of them is Jikokuten, the protector of the eastern realm. This Standing Jikokuten was originally part of a full set of Shitennō statues preserved at Kōfukuji temple, Nara. The body of this life-size work is believed to be carved from one piece of cypress with the head and arms made as separate pieces. Though covered with armor, the sturdy body is rippling with muscles; the short neck and fiery glare magnify its impressive figure; despite the relatively static pose, the guardian king exerts a powerful presence. Given the bold and stately

stance accompanied by budding touches of realism, the work is believed to fall in the transition period between the Heian and Kamakura periods. The addition of eyeballs of a different material adds to its fearsome aspect. The statue was likely finished in bright colors, most of which has flaked off, but traces of color on the face and fingers indicate that the skin was green colored. The armor over the chest and shins was once covered with lacquer, projecting a sense of the quality of the armor. The expression of the jaki (“evil spirit”; ogre) upon which the figure stands is also impressive.

During the 1180 siege of Nara by the Taira no Shigehira-led forces, which set fire to temples and monasteries, Kōfukuji was burned down. It is not known, therefore, when and for what hall the statue was made, but there is no doubt that it is an excellent work handed down at Kōfukuji. It was among the statues that tea master Masuda Donnō rescued from the anti-Buddhist reforms and the ensuing the destruction of icons that swept Japan in the early Meiji period.