Japanese altar cloth, uchishiki, decorated with sets of kara-shishi (Chinese-lions), peonies, rocks and clouds. Silk with cotton liner, some soiling and some stains 27" x 29" (68.6cm x 73.7cm)
The lion is the king of beasts and is considered a messenger for Monju Bosatsu. They are often found guarding either side of a Shinto Shrine in Japan. The peony is the sovereign of the flowers, which symbolizes wealth and honor. The scene here is famous from the noh play, Shakkyo (stone bridge) embellished by Zeami (1364-1443).
In Shakkyo, a Japanese monk travels throughout India and China studying Buddhism when he comes to an enormous arch-shaped stone bridge over a steep ravine at Mt. Tiantai (today’s Shanxi Province, China). The bridge is long, narrow and covered with moss. He was told by a local that the land beyond the bridge is the Pure Land that belongs to Monju Bosatsu. He was also warned the danger of crossing over the bridge for any human being – indicating the difficult ascetic Buddhist training. While he waits for a miracle as he was told, a lion(s) shows up and starts dancing, as if intoxicated by the fume of the peonies. After the dance, the lion quickly run across the bridge vanishing onto the other side of the world.