The Koyasan Temple Complex, a 15th-century Buddhist site in Japan's Wakayama Prefecture, is hosting a two-month art festival until December 1. The festival commemorates the 250th anniversary of the birth of Kukai (also known as Kobo Daishi)the iconic Buddhist priest who founded the temple complex and Shingon, the Japanese branch of Vajrayana Buddhism.
The Koyasan Temple complex is perched atop a picturesque mountain and is considered a testament to the spiritual and architectural achievements of the Shingon school of Japanese Buddhism. As the venue for this celebration of art and Buddhism, the complex is intended to honor the memory of Kukai.
The art festival, known as Koyasan Art Days (KAD), draws inspiration from both Buddhist art and Buddhist-inspired art, bridging the gap between new creations from emerging artists and historic national treasures dating back centuries. It will take place near Kongobu-ji Temple and include a public art exhibition and garden events near the entrances to the Reihokan Museum and Daishi Kyokai, the administrative headquarters of Shingon Buddhism. Among the works on display, several are inspired by Koyasan objects, masterfully created by renowned Japanese artists such as Tamae Hirokawa, Yuko Bito and Hideki Yoshimoto.
Art and music have long danced in harmony, and KAD's Art Days concerts, held at venues such as Kongobu-ji, provide a melodious experience for participants. The Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra's string quintet will perform classical compositions that transcend time, while Wakayama-based Ensemble Key Trad will delight audiences with traditional Japanese music.
As the sun sets over these remarkable exhibits, KAD invites you to explore these sacred structures under a celestial canopy. The special nighttime openings, taking place at Kongobu-ji from October 16 to 20 and 23 to 27, followed by the Reihokan Museum from October 30 to November 3, promise a transcendent visual experience. During these serene evenings, captivating events take place, including special screenings and artist-led talks. The Koyasan Tourist Information Center also contributed to the wealth of knowledge by presenting informative exhibition boards.
The KAD website notes:
Creating an intersection where Koyasan Buddhist art meets contemporary productions, Koyasan Art Days invites participants to savor the artistic creations of this sacred mountain from a whole new perspective. During this period, visitors can enjoy contemporary art exhibitions and concerts at Kongobuji Main Temple and other selected sites in Koyasan, night tours of Kongobuji and Reihokan Museum, garden lightings and art exhibitions at affiliated temples. We invite visitors from around the world to discover the endless enchantments of Koyasan by joining us at this unique intersection of past and present.
(Koyasan Art Days)
Kukai, also known as Kobo Daishi, lived in Japan during the Heian period (794-1185) and is famous for his multifaceted contributions. He was a prolific writer, calligrapher and artist, his creations reflecting the profound knowledge gained through his practice of esoteric Buddhism. Kukai founded the Shingon school, emphasizing the importance of direct experience and the unity of the physical and spiritual worlds. His teachings continue to inspire Buddhists, especially those drawn to the complex rituals and meditative practices of Shingon.
Buddhism has seen a precipitous decline in Japan in recent decades. According to a 2015 report from The Guardianmore than one in three temples are expected to close by 2040. These are largely small, rural temples that simply will no longer have practitioners living nearby as young people leave for the cities and never return.
“The popular image of wealthy Buddhist priests may still be true in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, but that is not the case elsewhere,” said Ukai, author of Vanishing Temples: the Loss of Rural Areas and Religion. (The Guardian)