Organized Panel Session
The earliest Japanese Buddhist figures consist of a dozen statues, commonly known as the Tori-style group and datable to the early 7th century. It has long been recognized that these Tori statues derived from the late Northern Wei style in China and it is no surprise that they exhibit formal affinities to Chinese prototypes. However, the severe linear impression – most evident in the extremely stylized serrated outline of Tori-style bodhisattva statues – finds no parallel in China or Korea, and is considered a unique Japanese feature. Various studies have elucidated that indigenous aesthetics and local technological proficiency transforms original art forms in the host country, less discussed is how the method of transmission also impacts the replication of imageries.
This paper contends that the severe linear austerity of Tori statues resulted from the means through which the earliest Buddhist art forms entered the Japanese archipelago. It argues that a linear scheme was congenial to the design for Buddhist statuettes. In the process of Japanese craftsmen transposing the design for statuettes onto colossal figures, this linearity sharpened, giving rise to a severe quality that became characteristic of the Tori-style group. This finding reveals that only statuettes from the continent were available as prototypes when Tori statues were made, indicative of a period of very limited Buddhist contacts. Methodologically, this study moves beyond the traditional dualistic approach that focuses on the source and host country, and brings to light the role of transmission channel in the process of artistic production.