98.9 per cent

From the promotional website for upcoming exhibition Kukai's World: The Arts of Esoteric Buddhism (空海と密教美術展):

See that call-out up in the top left? "98.9% National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties!" (国宝・重要文化財 98.9%).

Makes you wonder what the rest is. I was hoping for small print reading "1.1% pictures of Ānanda my ex drew on a napkin in 2003," but no such luck.

Popularity factor: 11


It's the Ivory soap of Cultural Property exhibits.

Finally, an event that will actually be happening in Tokyo when I visit on the 29th. Although I doubt I'll learn anything more about gachirinkan or seed syllables than I already know...


That looks like the same "Kukai's World" exhibit I saw at the Tokyo National Museum the last time I was there, like 1998 or something.

I still recall some particularly interesting orthographic puzzles from that exhibit. I saw one scroll with indigo paper and white vertical writing. There were little white dots alongside the characters, I couldn't read it so I have no idea what function they had. They didn't seem to be punctuation guides or anything related to the text, perhaps they were markers for ritual sequences or something.


There are some marks that are ritual sequences (I was just introduced to one potential set from Dunhuang manuscripts of the esoteric tradition), but there is a set of marks to note proper Chinese reading. They're set generally in a square around the kanji, although sometimes they're angular, and damned if I remember what the name of them are. Argh. (They're present in some old texts of the 令集解 if I'm remember my introduction to them properly.)

Leonardo Boiko:

mumei perhaps you’re thinking of okototen?


My favorite is when you need to put 甲and 乙 outside of 上and 下


Leonard, that is very interesting, I've never heard of okototen before. But these are probably different. There were only 1 or 2 dots used on the right side only of the kanji. I would compare them more to those dotted "underlines" you see in vertically written typeset text, except that these dots only covered the height of one character. And they did not appear to be modern dakuten.

I've never had the need to dive into Seeley's book, but I guess I have to do it now, or I'll wonder about this forever.

Tim May:

Okototen may not be what's on Charles's scroll, but I bet it is what I was asking Matt about here, so thanks for the reference!


I went to the exhibit on the 29th. As Charles said, it was similar to the 1998 exhibit insofar as there were some books with little dots around parts of the characters, that were not okoten but looked rather like the よくできました swirls that elementary school teachers write on calligraphy tests. Maybe it's just the teacher in me that made me feel like I was looking at ancient calligraphy practice.

Also, they had uprooted part of the 3D mandala from Toji and planted it in the museum, but only part of it, so it wasn't a mandala at all, and that's just terrible!!

My curiosity about the 1.1% non-Cultural Property part of the exhibit was sated. Obviously if an artifact is included despite besmirching a claim to 100% Cultural Property artifacts, it must be something really cool, right? Like, it's got to be BETTER than a National Treasure. Well, there was precisely one non-Cultural Property artifact, and it was cool in all the right ways.

It looked from afar like an ordinary set of prayer beads, with the traditional story that they were given to Kukai. However, when you look very, very close at the beads, you realize that every bead is actually a complex piece of gold jewelry, like a very nice earring, made up of infinitesimally smaller beads. They are hollow, but there are more beads strung on little arcs inside each bead. And they are connected like a necklace somehow. I have no idea how medieval jewelers were able to create something like this. Anyway, good find by the curators.


Thanks for the report! You got to wonder, though: if it's that cool, why not just make it a Cultural Property or something? Are the standards so high that an ingenious piece of gold jewelry from medieval times won't cut it? (Actually, I have no idea what they are.)


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