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From Value One, Winter 2009-2010 No. 27  

Standing figure of Jizo Bosatsu at Choko-ji Temple

There are countless ancient Buddha statues all across Japan, but only 90 or so of which are made of iron. Most of these iron statues are located in the Kanto area and Aichi Prefecture and were constructed mainly in the Kamakura period (roughly 1185 to 1333).

One reason for the extreme scarcity of ancient iron Buddha statues is presumed to be due to the much higher melting point of iron (approximately 1,530°C) than of copper (around 1,000°C) and other metals. The relatively high melting point of iron requires more sophisticated casting techniques, and the difficulty of neatly finishing such details as pleats, known as emon, made ironwork unsuitable for Buddha statues.

Aichi Prefecture, with as many as 11 ancient iron Buddha statues, is second only to the Kanto area in this respect. By far the best known of these iron statues is the standing figure of Jizo Bosatsu at Choko-ji Temple in Inazawa City. Made in the middle of the Kamakura period, in 1235, it is renowned as the most beautiful of the surviving iron Buddha statues. Its surface is smooth, unbelievably smooth for something made of cast iron, and the molding and preserving techniques it reveals are incredibly advanced for its age of nearly 800 years. Another standing figure of Jizo Bosatsu, and one of the oldest iron statues of Buddha (made in 1230), can be found at Hozo-ji Temple in Miwa Town in neighboring Inazawa. Its rugged cast surface and wild threatening facial expression represent a unique strength.

The construction of iron Buddha statues is concentrated between 1200 and 1550. One likely explanation as to the scarcity of iron Buddha statues made in subsequent periods is that, according to Mr. Takuo Suzuki, former tatara section chief of the Society for Preservation of Japanese Art Swords, "civil strife reached its peak in the late Muromachi period (1532–1555), stimulating even greater demand for swords and calling forth technological innovations in the traditional and long-standing tatara (bellows-blown) method of iron making." Mr. Suzuki said that once the kera-oshi technique of iron making was established, the production of iron Buddha statues inevitably declined because the new technique permitted direct steelmaking, and steel contains much less carbon than pig iron (cast iron) does, making it unsuitable for statue casting.


"The second year of Bunreki" (1235) is inscribed on the round base of the standing figure of Jizo Bosatsu.




Rokkaku-do, a structure at Choko-ji Temple in which the figure of Jizo Bosatsu stands




The wild facial expression of the standing figure of Jizo Bosatsu at Hozo-ji Temple is impressive. The face still retains fragments of gold foil.




One theory explaining the many iron Buddha statues that were made in eastern Japan was that the rough but powerful iron Buddha statues matched the temper of samurais from that region. Such statues make up a valuable source of information on the high technical standards of iron making in Japan in those days.


The existing Kiyosu Castle was reconstructed in 1989.



The area in and around Inazawa City was the scene of many well-known events in Japan’s period of civil strife. Kiyosu Castle, about three kilometers south of Choko-ji Temple, served as the headquarters of Oda Nobunaga for approximately ten years. Nobunaga’s forces were based at this castle when they fought in the battle of Okehazama. At Choko-ji Temple, the remains of a fountain known as Gashosui, from which Nobunaga is said to have loved to drink, can still be found. The gentle eyes of the iron Buddha statue that stands in the temple like a living witness to history saw the rise and fall of lords in battle and are still shining on the world.
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