Objects in the Japan Gallery at the Penn Museum richly and colorfully illustrates the development and diversification of Buddhism in Japan after the 6th century. This diversity is represented by a wide variety of pieces, including a spectacular black, red, and gold lacquered sculpture of Fudo, the fiercest of the deities who combat evil. A beautiful gilt statue of Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future, illustrates the artistic heights reached during the 6th century CE in China, an important period in the development of Buddhism.
The Japan Gallery traces the development of Buddhism from China into Japan, touching on major schools of Buddhist thought, including Tendai, Pure Land, and Zen. These branches were based in Mahayana Buddhism which grew out of a shift in emphasis from the individual to universal salvation and elaborated on the idea of a bodhisattva, an enlightened being who postpones final Buddhahood in order to save all sentient beings.
An altar based on those in the Shingon Buddhist tradition, provides a grand centerpiece for the gallery. The central golden Buddha seated on his gilded lotus is flanked on his right by Monju, bodhisattva of wisdom, seated on his lion, and on the left by Fugen, bodhisattva of goodness, riding his elephant. The Buddha came to the Museum through the generosity of the locally-owned department store, Strawbridge and Clothier, when they learned of our need for a large-scale Buddha image to complete the altar triad. The sculpture is a modern image produced by Thai craftsmen in a Japanese style. These figures are surrounded by hanging ornaments, lanterns, and a table replete with offerings. A smaller section of the gallery focuses on modern Japanese Buddhism including a family shrine for household use and statues that speak to the Pure Land tradition, the most popular school of Buddhism in Japan today.
The small sculpture in the China section of this gallery also serves as an introduction to the Buddhist works of art on display in the China Gallery.