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Inscribing and Ascribing Merit: Buddhist Vows and the Hōryūji Shaka Triad


Akiko Walley reconsiders the long-debated question of the reliability of an inscription on the back of the mandorla of the seventh-century bronze Shaka triad at the Golden Hall of Hōryūji, Nara. First, she analyzes the function of inscriptions on Buddhist statues in the seventh-century archipelago by focusing on precisely where they were placed. Although these inscriptions appeared on the surface of the statues, they were, she observes, typically positioned away from the gaze of general worshipers. Accordingly, Walley argues that the inscriptions were meant as private communications whose purpose was to reaffirm significant family connections that had been lost through death. Next, Walley demonstrates that the Kashiwade family, which was named as the chief commissioner of the Shaka triad in its inscription, was in dire need of such affirmation; on the basis of this finding, she concludes that the inscription was likely placed at the moment of the statue’s origin.

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