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Centuries-old Japanese temple treasures discovered at museum in Munich

Friday 16 November 2012

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JPEG - 12 kb
A wooden mask believed to be from the Horyuji temple and dating to the late seventh century turned up in a museum in Munich. (Provided by Hosei University’s Research Center for International Japanese Studies)

A stunning collection of centuries-old theatrical masks that is believed to have vanished from the famed Horyuji temple in Japan over a century ago have been located in a museum in Germany.

Two of the 11 wooden masks discovered likely date as far back as the seventh century in the Asuka Period (592-710) and were discovered by researchers at Hosei University in Tokyo.

They were found at the State Museum of Ethnology in Munich.

The artifacts were apparently removed from the Horyuji temple in Nara Prefecture, a World Heritage Site that is the repository of many of Japan’s national treasures, in the first years of the Meiji Era (1868-1912). At the time, the nation was rushing to modernize after more than two centuries of self-imposed isolation.

Horyuji was founded in the early seventh century and rebuilt through the early eighth century after it burned down. It is acknowledged as the world’s oldest wooden building.

Masashi Oguchi, a professor of Japanese ancient history at Hosei University, called the discovery historically significant.

The masks are believed to have disappeared during a period of great turmoil in Japan. The feudal era had just ended with the restoration of imperial rule.

In one of its first acts, the Meiji government issued a decree to separate Buddhism and Shinto to rebuild the country centered around the emperor, Shinto’s chief priest.

- Full story: ajw.asahi.com

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