May 09, 2018 I Brett Tingley

Mysterious Scrolls Found Inside Ancient Japanese Buddha Statue

An ancient Buddhist statue in Japan has been found to contain a collection of mysterious scrolls and artifacts, and researchers have no idea what might be inside. The statue has long resided in the Hokke-ji Temple in the Japanese city of Nara. Local legends have it that the statue in the Hokke-ji Temple might contain unknown ancient secrets, but the temple's caretakers have been opposed to opening up the holy relic to see what might lie inside. Thanks to modern scanning technologies, scientists have now been able to peer inside to reveal these mysterious treasures without harming the statue. What exactly might be hidden in this ancient relic?

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Hokke-ji Temple in Nara.

Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 to 794 and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to the many temples, shrines, and ruins from this period of Japanese history. Shōmu, the 45th Emperor of Japan, established Buddhism as one of Japan’s religions and largest cultural influences during this period. Thus, chances are high that the relics found hidden inside this statue might reveal unknown aspects of the founding of Japanese Buddhism as we know it today. The statue depicts the bodhisattva Monju Bosatsu, or Manjushri, a bodhisattva typically depicted holding a flaming sword meant to symbolize wisdom through cutting down ignorance in fiery glory. Some legends also have it that Monju brought nanshoku, or the honorable practice of monastic man-boy love to the Japanese Buddhist tradition of the Nara period. Do we really want to know what's on those scrolls?

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According to Japanese news outlet NHK, CT scans have revealed that the statue contains nearly 200 objects, with 30-40 stashed inside its head and another 150 in its body. The statue was found to be hollow from head to toe. Many of the objects appear to be scrolls, and there is no evidence that the statue has ever been opened.  In terms of the artifacts inside, the statue is really special,” Shigeki Iwata, special research chair at the Nara National Museum, told NHK. “The discovery is historically valuable and has increased its value as a cultural asset."

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The Nara National Museum.

The statue will be on display in the Nara National Museum until May 27, after which time it will be determined if the statue can be opened up. Who knows what hidden secrets of ancient Japan might lie inside?

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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