Accounts and Images of Six Kannon in Japan

Accounts and Images of Six Kannon in Japan

Sherry D. Fowler

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780824856229

Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press


When Kannon (Avalokiteśvara in Sanskrit) appears in multiple manifestations, the compassionate Buddhist deity’s magnificent powers are believed to increase to even greater heights. This book examines the development of sculptures, paintings, and prints associated with the cult of the Six Kannon, which began in Japan in the tenth century and remained strong until its transition, beginning in sixteenth century, to the still active Thirty-Three Kannon cult. The complete set of Six Kannon made in 1224 and housed at the Kyoto temple Daihōonji is an exemplar of the cult’s images. With a diachronic approach, beginning in the eleventh century, individual case studies are employed to reinstate a context for the sets of Six Kannon, the majority of which have been lost or scattered, in order to clarify the former vibrancy, magnitude, and distribution of the cult and enhance knowledge of religious image-making in Japan. While Kannon’s role of assisting beings trapped in the six paths of transmigration is a well-documented catalyst for the selection of six, there are other significant themes at work. Six Kannon worship includes worldly concerns like childbirth and animal husbandry, strong ties between text and image, and numerous cases of matching with Shinto kami groups of six.