As mentioned in my earlier posts for me Todaiji in Nara is my favorite temple in Japan. By chance I stumbled upon the ad in the Nikkei Shimbun on the left, where a smaller sized replica of the octagonal lantern of the Todaji is promoted. This bronze lantern located in the front of the main hall at Todaiji – one of the oldest treasures at Todaiji — dates from the 8th-century. Now for 10 monthly payments of JPY 19,800 you can buy the 38 cm high work of art. But what is this product actually? A historical treasure that can be owned now by everyone, or just a scam to promote some historical copy for home use with easy multiple payments?
Honestly I am wondering about the timing of this promotion, considering the history of this lantern. During the Tenpyo era Japan suffered from a series of disasters and epidemics. It was only after experiencing these burdens to the country that Emperor Shōmu issued an edict in 741 to promote the construction of provincial temples throughout the nation. The goal was to bring more safety to the country. Todai-ji (Kinshosen-ji at the time) was appointed as the provincial temple of Yamato Province and the became the head of all the provincial Buddhist temples of Japan. The lantern was made at the same time as the Great Buddha at the Todaiji temple. Interestingly the lanterns were cast from an alloy of copper and tin and were originally covered in gold plating so that they would shine like pure gold.
Although in the subsequent 1,250 years they have been exposed to the elements and the surface plating has been lost, the lanterns have retained their dark subdued appearance throughout the centuries. Sadly in the last 20 years, Nara University found that the colour has changed completely to a yellow-green hue. Some concerns were raised as to whether this is the result of atmospheric pollution. An analysis of the rust on the octagonal gilt bronze lanterns conducted by the Tokyo National Research Institute of Cultural Properties detected the presence of sulfur and chlorine that resulted from pollution, while basic copper sulfate and basic copper chloride were detected in the by-products of corrosion, thus verifying the results of the Nara University study.
Although I understand now that sadly due to pollution the beauty of the lantern will be destroyed and a copy can be a great alternative, at the end, I still wonder whether the timing is suitable for the promotion of the smaller replica. Japan is still facing the consequences of multifaceted disaster, so is this the right time to promote a product that originates from a similar stressful period in the Japanese history?
Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)