Important Cultural Property
Heian period (Southern Song period in China)/12th century
Kyushu National Museum
This is a ceramic cylindrical sutra container, which is said to have been excavated from Mt. Shioji in Fukuoka. At the end of the Heian period when the thought of “the Age of Dharma Decline” was prevalent, faith in Gokurakuojo (leave this world and enter the land of perfect bliss) spread from Kyoto to Kyushu. Efforts to build sutra mounds, that is, efforts to hand down proper teachings to future generations by burying sutras in the ground bore fruit most quickly in the northern part of Kyushu. Mt. Shioji is among the leading sites in Kyushu where sutra mounds were actively built, like Usa in Oita and Mt. Hiko and Mt. Kubote in Fukuoka.
While the mainstream material for sutra cylinders is bronze, there are some ceramic ones like this one. However, ceramic sutra cylinders, which were made in China and have a lotus pedestal and rich decoration, such as this one, are extremely rare. Although the exact place of production is unknown, it can be said that this cylinder was produced in South China (Zhejiang or Fujiang) during the twelfth century. Since there were many cases where merchants from Song who were living in Hakata were involved in the construction of sutra mounds around Mt. Shioji, this work could be one of the special sutra cylinders custom-ordered by these Song merchants. This cylinder is an interesting material that enables us to explore the link between the acceptance of sutra mound culture in the northern part of Kyushu and trading around the East China Sea.
This sutra cylinder features a cap-like lid with a brim that warps upward and a big tower-style grip. The body is slightly round and has a pair of concave lines in the upper and lower areas. There is a band down below, under which is a lotus pedestal carved in relief. The foot at the bottom is low and opens widely outward. The pottery clay is light gray, on which white engobe is applied. Then, a slightly greenish transparent glaze is applied over the cylinder except the inside of the lid and the bottom of the cylinder where the pottery body remains.
Fittings of this sutra cylinder include a small white porcelain jar, a small sword and a small container with a lid. There is a big crack on the small jar and part of the rim is chipped. These fittings seem to have been buried in the sutra mound with the sutra cylinder.