Shoso-in Special

Exhibition highlights splendors of the past

NARA -- The 70th Annual Exhibition of Shoso-in Treasures will be held from Oct. 27 to Nov. 12 at the Nara National Museum in Nara, featuring 56 items, including 10 items making their first-ever appearance at the annual event. The displays were chosen from among the about 9,000 items of the Shoso-in collection.  
  The annual exhibition gives visitors the opportunity to admire many artifacts from the vast collection of the Shoso-in repository in Nara. The collection includes many items conveying the refined culture of the Nara period (710-784) and pieces that were brought to Japan through active international exchanges in ancient times.  
  Among the featured items at this year's exhibition is "Hei Raden Hai no Hakkaku Kyo," a mirror owned by Emperor Shomu (701-756). Its back is gorgeously decorated with mother-of-pearl inlay, amber, turquoise and other materials.  
  The exhibition was first held in the fall of 1946, when the Japanese people were still suffering greatly from the nation's defeat in World War II. It became a source of encouragement and has been held regularly ever since, continuing to enchant visitors.  

Treasure house of art and history

The history of the Shoso-in collection began when items related to Emperor Shomu were stored there. After Emperor Shomu died, his grieving widow Empress Komyo (701-760) dedicated hundreds of objects used by the emperor to the statue of the Great Buddha at Todaiji temple, praying for the repose of his soul. A list of these items compiled at that time still remains.  
  The term "shoso-in" originally meant an area including "shoso," a repository for storing rice and treasures, at governmental offices and large temples in ancient times. These shoso repositories were abolished as time went by, except the one at Todaiji. As a result, the term came to mean the facility at Todaiji.  
  The Shoso-in building still remains. It is 33 meters long, 9 meters wide and 14 meters tall. Its length is about 60 percent of the Great Buddha Hall at the temple. The building is constructed with the azekura style, in which three-faceted timbers are laid horizontally upon one another, intersecting in the corners. The building is a designated national treasure.  
  Its interior is divided into three sections, respectively called Hokuso (north section), Chuso (middle section) and Nanso (south section). Items associated with Emperor Shomu are stored in the north section. The middle section contains pieces dedicated by Imperial family members and aristocrats at the consecration ceremony of the Great Buddha statue in 752, and also stores written materials dating back to the Nara period. The south section stores masks and costumes of bugaku, traditional Japanese court dancing accompanied by music, and Buddhist objects. All these items constitute the Shoso-in collection.  
  Today, these treasures are stored in modern repository buildings made with reinforced concrete located near the Shoso-in building.

Taimai Raden Hakkaku no Hako ( 39.2 cm in diameter, 12.7 cm high)

This octagonal box is used to contain offerings to the Buddha. Almost the entire surface of this box is covered with thin pieces of shell of taimai (hawksbill sea turtle). The surface is further decorated with mother-of-pearl inlay, which features delicate engravings of mandarin ducks and lotus flowers, in which plumage and leaf veins are depicted this lines. Small amber pieces are attached to the centers of flowers.

Saikaku no Nyoi (58 cm long, 5.9 cm wide at its head)

A nyoi is an implement used by priests during Buddhist rites. This piece's beauty stands out even when seen at a distance. Its palm-shaped head is made of rhinoceros horn. The shaft is covered with alternating blue and red colored ivory sheets. The base of the head is decorated with crystal and openwork ivory. Many of the materials used for this piece were not available in Japan, indicating the work's international character.

Nishiki Murasaki Aya Beni Rokechi Ashiginu no Manui no Mo (86 cm long, 81 cm wide)

This item is for women's used and looks like a skirt, and exemplifies what ancient fashion was like because its striped pattern in red and green is also seen on the colorful image of Asuka Bijin (beautiful women of Asuka) depicted in the murals of the ancient Takamatsuzuka tomb in Nara Prefecture. The murals are a designated national treasure.

Nui no Sengai (No.1) (27.5 cm long, 7.6 cm wide)

These are a pair of women's shoes. Similar pieces were unearthed in China, so this pair is believed to have been made in China during the Tang dynasty period. This pair is said to be the one recorded in a list of pieces dedicated to the statue of the Great Buddha at Todaiji temple by Empress Komyo. Therefore, it is possible they were worn by the empress herself. The Shoso-in collection has four pairs shoes of this lind and two of them will be on display this year. This pair is made with silk, paper and other materials stitched together. Embroidered floral ornaments are attached to the toes.

Jiko (38.3 cm long, 22 cm in diameter at its openings, 10.9 cm in diameter at its center)

This hourglass-shaped item is the body of a tsuzumi hand drum. It is made of pottery with Nara sensai glazing using green and white colors. Leather drum heads were attached to both openings when it was played.

Hakkaku Kyo (32.8 cm in diameter, 0.7 cm thick at its brim, weighing 3,514.8 grams)

This eight-lobed mirror is among the items used by Emperor Shomu. It is believed to have been brought from China during the Tang dynasty period. Its back is elaborately decorated with mother-of -pearl, amber and small pieces of smashed turquoise.

Jinko Mokuga no Hako ( 12 cm long, 33 cm wide, 8.9 cm high)

This box is used to contain offerings to the Buddha. This sheets of fragrant wood were pasted onto its surface, on which images of deer, kirin mythical creatures and colorful flowers were then painted. These paintings are covered with thin crystal sheets for protection. The part in a fletched arrow pattern surrounding these paintings was made with the mokuga method. The box's bottom part is decorated with ivory panels with grape and arabesque openwork. Thus, this piece is made with a variety of materials and skills, and is one of the most outstanding pieces of its kind among the Shoso-in collection.


Schedule: Oct. 27 to Nov. 12. Open daily from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. (until 8 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays)  
Admission: 1,100 yen for adults, 700 yen for high school and university students, and 400 yen for elementary and junior high school students.  
Prices are reduced by 100 yen for advance tickets (on sale through Oct. 26) and for groups of 20 or more.  
Late-entry tickets to visit the museum 90 minutes before closing can be purchased at the museum from 2-1/2 hours before closing. They are priced at 800 yen for adults, 500 yen for high school and university students, and 200 yen for elementary and junior high school students.  
An advance pair of tickets for an adult visiting with a child of elementary or junior high school age costs 1,100 yen.  
Venue & organizer: Nara National Museum  
Supporters: Iwatani Corp., Nippon Telegraph and Telephone West Corp., Kansai Electrical Safety Inspection Association, Canon Inc., Kyoto Arts And Crafts University, Kintetsu Railway Co., Central Japan Railway Co., West Japan Railway Co., Shionogi Healthcare Co., Daikin Industries, Ltd., Daiwa House Industry Co., Hakutsuru Sake Brewing Co., Maruichi Steel Tube Ltd. and Yamato Noen Co.  
Special cooperation: The Yomiuri Shimbun  
Cooperation: Minerva Shobo Ltd., Yomiuri Telecasting Corp. and others
Visiting: The museum is a 15-minute walk east from Kintetsu Nara Station. Alternatively, a local bus service is available from both Kintetsu Nara Station and JR Nara Station.  
The venue is usually busiest in the mornings on weekends and national holidays, and less crowded later in the afternoon on weekdays. On Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays, its opening hours are extended to 8 p.m. so that people can admire the exhibits in the evening.  
Visit for more information.
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