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  • Fabricating the Tenjukoku Shūchō Mandara and Prince Shōtoku's Afterlives by Chari Pradel
  • Akiko Walley
Fabricating the Tenjukoku Shūchō Mandara and Prince Shōtoku's Afterlives by Chari Pradel. Leiden: Brill, 2016. Pp. xi + 277. $124.00 cloth.

This long-awaited monograph by Chari Pradel concerns the renowned mandala Tenjukoku Shūchō 天寿国繍帳 (embroidery of the Land of the Heavenly Lifespan; hereafter TSM) from the nunnery Chūgūji 中宮寺 in Nara Prefecture, Japan. In its current state, TSM is a hanging scroll featuring a composite of small fragments sewn together into a rectangular textile (88.8 × 82.7 cm). It is believed, however, that in its original state, TSM was a pair of long rectangular embroideries most likely used in a way similar to that of a curtain. The two embroideries were ornamented with motifs of people among flora, celestial animals, and other beings. Famously, TSM originally came with a four-hundred-character inscription embroidered on the backs of one hundred turtles (four graphs on each turtle). Although most of the original turtle designs no longer survive, the inscription was transcribed in its entirety in later historical documents, such as the Imperial Biography of the Saintly Virtue Dharma King of the Upper Palace (Jōgū shōtoku hōō teisetsu 上宮聖徳法王帝説; hereafter Imperial Biography) of the late tenth or early eleventh century. According to the inscription, the pair of embroideries was commissioned circa 622 by Princess Tachibana no Ōiratsume 橘大女郎 (also 多至波奈大女郎, 橘大郎女), who wished to visualize the Tenjukoku where she believed her newly deceased husband, Umayado no Toyotomimi 厩戸豊聰耳 (more popularly known as Prince Shōtoku 聖徳太子), and his mother, Anahobe no Hashihito 穴穂部間人, resided in their afterlife. The inscription also names four [End Page 393] artisans who were in charge of the production of the embroideries, providing precious clues into the artisanal practices of the seventh century.

As one of the oldest surviving textiles in Japan with an extensive inscription, TSM is central to our understanding of not only the history of Japanese textiles but also the daily customs and devotional practices of the Asuka period (ca. 550–645).1 Due to its unquestionable historical significance, TSM has been rigorously studied since the nineteenth century, addressing issues including the reliability of the recorded inscription and interpretation of its content, the original arrangement of the motifs and meaning of Tenjukoku, and the circumstances surrounding their production and identity of the artisans involved. In recent years, there is also an increased interest in more scientific analysis to understand the weaving and embroidering techniques of seventh-century Japan and to partially reconstruct the original layout of the embroidered designs using the direction of the weave of the ground textiles.

Despite the intense interest in TSM in Japan, there have been virtually no studies conducted in English (except for Pradel's earlier work). In addition, as Pradel states in her introduction, the massive numbers of Japanese studies are diverse in their interests and approaches, but no scholar has yet attempted a holistic analysis of the embroideries (p. 1). This monograph is the first in any language to conduct such a comprehensive study. In five chapters, Pradel considers all of the major issues surrounding TSM. In the course of her argument, she introduces and evaluates the key preceding research, clarifying the points of contention. The appendix summarizes the most up-to-date research on the technical analysis of the fabric structure and embroidery stitching, providing an important resource to any student of Japanese textiles. The expansiveness of this book's coverage is truly inspiring.

The five chapters can be divided into two parts: chapters 1 through 3 are mainly concerned with the original production of the embroideries in the seventh century, and chapters 4 and 5 are about the life of the embroideries after their rediscovery in the thirteenth century by nun Shinnyo 信如 (b. 1211) from Chūgūji. In order to revive her nunnery, [End Page 394] Shinnyo hoped to confirm the death date of Queen-Consort Anahobe, who was by that point believed to be the founder of Chūgūji. Shinnyo eventually discovered the embroideries in the repository of a nearby temple, Hōryūji 法隆寺, in 1274. By the thirteenth century, the other chief...


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