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Plotting the Prince

Shōtoku Cults and the Mapping of Medieval Japanese Buddhism

Kevin Gray Carr

Publication Year: 2012

Plotting the Prince traces the development of conceptual maps of the world created through the telling of stories about Prince Shotoku (573?–622?), an eminent statesman who is credited with founding Buddhism in Japan. It analyzes his place in the sacred landscape and the material relics of the cult of personality dedicated to him, focusing on the art created from the tenth to fourteenth centuries. The book asks not only who Shotoku was, but also how images of his life served the needs of devotees in early medieval Japan.

Even today Shotoku evokes images of a half-real, half-mythical figure who embodied the highest political, social, and religious ideals. Taking up his story about four centuries after his death, this study traces the genesis and progression of Shotoku’s sacred personas in art to illustrate their connection to major religious centers such as Shitenno-ji and Horyu-ji. It argues that mapping and storytelling are sister acts—both structuring the world in subtle but compelling ways—that combined in visual narratives of Shotoku’s life to shape conceptions of religious legitimacy, communal history, and sacred geography.

Plotting the Prince introduces much new material and presents provocative interpretations that call upon art historians to rethink fundamental conceptions of narrative and cultic imagery. It offers social and political historians a textured look at the creation of communal identities on both local and state levels, scholars of religion a substantially new way of understanding key developments in doctrine and practice, and those studying the past in general a clear instance of visual hagiography taking precedence over the textual tradition.

72 illus., 32 in color

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. 6-7

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This book is the product of many years of research, and the list of people who have helped me along the way is exceedingly long. I can mention only a few of them here. ...

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pp. xi-xii

... While recognized translations of some very common texts, such as the Lotus Sūtra or Tale of Genji, are used throughout, titles of East Asian texts have generally been left in their original language to reduce confusion stemming from the many manuscripts with very similar titles. As with individual ...

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Introduction: The Lay of the Land

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pp. 1-19

When you enter the Picture Hall at the temple of Hōryū-ji, the light is so dim that you cannot see anything. Slowly, your eyes adjust: shadows become shapes, shapes become objects, and objects spread themselves across a space that seems almost too vast to contemplate. In the soft light, you might ...

Part I Faces of Shōtoku

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Chapter 1 Ways to Tell a Sacred Life

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pp. 23-46

Prince Shōtoku was one of the first historical figures in Japanese history to be treated as something more than human, and the many extant hagiographies reveal continual negotiations of his divine status over a period of more than one thousand years. His cult cut through social, sectarian, and geographic ...

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Chapter 2 The Lives of the Prince

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pp. 47-69

When juxtaposed with other hagiographic traditions, one of the most prominent characteristics of Shōtoku’s “life story”—and, at least in theory, Buddhist biography in general—is its open-endedness. While the narrative of a life may seem to be easily bracketed by the ...

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Chapter 3 Japanese Spirit

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pp. 70-103

There is a distinct narrative shape to the legends of Shōtoku. Thus far, he has been discussed as an avatar of Kannon and as a composite of many lives that spanned the history of Buddhism on the Asian continent and in Japan. Yet it is clear that the appearance of the prince in the sixth ...

Part II Mapping Shōtoku’s Tale

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Chapter 4 The Birth of a Legend

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pp. 107-126

The Western Precinct (Sai-in) of Hōryū-ji in present-day Nara Prefecture, with its towering pagoda and elegant Golden Hall, sees waves of visitors stream through it every day. The buildings stand as the oldest examples of continental-style wooden architecture in Japan, and the sculptures in those halls are central ...

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Chapter 5 Siting Shōtoku

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pp. 127-169

Location is paramount in the Picture Hall at Hōryū-ji. The paintings were, from their inception, meant to be displayed as a set arranged in a very specific place. A complete understanding of these pieces must be grounded in their original setting, along with all that it implies about their ...

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Epilogue: Afterlives

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pp. 171-178

“Shōtoku” is an ever-shifting center. The first half of this book showed how the prince, as the focus of a widespread transsectarian cult, integrated into his person diverse times and places, thereby symbolically overcoming a sense of distance from sources of Buddhist authority. The latter half of this study ...


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pp. 179-188


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pp. 189-215


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pp. 217-239


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pp. 241-245

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About the Author

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pp. 261-262

Kevin Carr is an associate professor of art history at the University of Michigan. He focuses on medieval Japanese art history and has published on a variety of issues, including the challenges of writing history through material culture, notions of rationality, and the power of visual arts to inspire ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780824865726
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824834630

Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 858358175
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Plotting the Prince

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Subject Headings

  • Shōtoku Taishi, -- 574?-622? -- Cult.
  • Shōtoku Taishi, 574?-622? -- Art.
  • Buddhism -- Japan -- History -- To 1185.
  • Buddhist hagiography -- Japan.
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