Brahma and Indra in Japan

Indra and Brahma, 8th century Japan, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
Indra and Brahma, 8th century Japan, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

Buddhism reached Japan in the 5th century when the monarch of the Korean kingdom of Baekje sent a mission with gifts, image of Buddha and sacred objects. The arrival of Buddhism disrupted the existing system of kami worship and eventually prevailed. Today, there are thirteen schools of Buddhism, 80,000 temples and 150,000 monks. Indra and Brahma reached Japan with the spread of Buddhism. They are part of the Buddhist world and Buddha is often represented with Indra and Brahma flanking him. There is also another representation of Buddha descending from Indra’s heaven.

These two statues are made using hollow dry lacquer and come from the Nara period (710 – 794 CE). Brahma is wearing a Chinese style robe, while Indra wears a monk’s robe over Chinese style breastplates as the protector of Buddha.

These two statues were created for the Kofukuji Buddhist temple in Nara Japan in the 8th century. Empress Komyo sponsored the construction. A fire in 1180 CE destroyed the Golden Hall where they were placed, but these statues survived. In 1906, the temple was in dire financial situation and such treasures were sold to raise funds. Eventually, it ended up in an American museum.

Briefly Noted: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

He competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and had his picture taken with Hitler. In the war that followed, he was shot down over the Pacific and he spent 47 days on a raft drifting aimlessly, surviving Japanese planes and sharks. For the next two years he was tortured by a sadist Japanese prison guard. Any normal person would have died, but Louis Zamperini survived all that to tell his tale. Unfortunately he became an evangelical, but somehow that saved him, his marriage and sanity.
The author does not simply follow Zamperini’s life, but also keeps track of the torturer Mutsuhiro Watanabe who survived the war and the hunt for war criminals. He was alive till 2005 and there was a possibility of both of them meeting again in Japan. But that never happened as Watanabe backed out.
This book is an example of what a great non-fiction writer can do; the research just blends into the story telling. Within the structure of a biography, Laura Hillenbrand introduces suspense and lots of history. This is one of the most powerful books I have read recently.

Shoguns vs Jesuits

That was a report from the Malayalam newspaper, Kerala Kaumdi (March 3, 2009), about an organization called Love Jihad whose goal is to convert girls from “other religions”, marry them, and produce at least four children. Around 4000 such marriages happened in the past 6 months, inviting the attention of the Special Branch. No religion was mentioned, except that most marriages happened in Malappuram district.


The second report comes from Bangalore, where Father Joseph Menengis of St. James Church tells the B K Somashekhara Commission of inquiry that idol worship was practiced in churches to attract Hindus with the aim of converting them to Christianity.
What happened to those times when folks worked hard to convert people?
In MMW4, Prof. Matthew Herbst talks about the time when Jesuits converted 300,000 Japanese to Christianity in 1600 CE. The Jesuits, members of the Society of Jesus formed by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, emerged from Paris to spread Catholicism.
They did it the hard way. They adopted local dress instead of staying in robes like the Franciscans or Dominicans. They learned the local language. They learned the classical texts. Then through the local language, using the classical text as a bridge, they spread the “good word.”
But this story had a tragic ending – for the Jesuit priests.
The Tokugawa shoguns who ruled Japan after 1600 knew their history for they had seen what happened in Philippines: first came the missionaries, then the army. There was also the question of loyalty. When someone became a Christian, the Tokugawa wondered, were the converts loyal to Tokugawa or the priests.?
Realizing that the Jesuits would undermine Japan, the Tokugawa asked Jesuits to leave. Being Japanese and Christian was outlawed and Christians were asked to convert back to Buddhism. Even Jesuit priests were made to convert and forced  to take an oath declaring Christianity was evil.
For couple of centuries the Japan was free of missionaries. But they came back again, in the 19th century.
(Hat tip: Ranjith, Dheeraj)