A tall silk ceremonial kimono featuring a very rare and unusual design of rows of small yuzen-painted crests. The five mon(family crests) features three sprouts of Japanese ginger (myouga) embraced in a circle, which are believed to symbolize longevity. This emblem is associated with the Tendai Buddhist deity Matara. (Crest translation provided by Anton Schweizer)
Like a kurotomesode, the background color is black, with the pattern-work located on the lower part. Uniquely, this patterned area involves a checkerboard-type design with about 300 squares and 150 motifs. There are seven different motifs among the 150. Surprisingly, all the motifs are hand-drawn and meticulously yuzen-painted. There are about 20examples of each particular motif, but each is different in small but discernable ways. Even the many lines that divide the chequered design are very carefully penned in with a white sumi-style ink -- the detailed image reveal that these dividing lines are not simple lines, but complex narrow drawings. This kimono must have taken several months to complete by extremely patient craftspeople, so would have been a very expensive robe to commission. What was this kimono used for? There is nothing else that we have seen in museums or private hands that is similar. We do know that one of the seven motifs on this kimono represent the Buddhist Sacred Wheel. Originally a weapon in ancient India, with swords as spokes, was adopted by esoteric Buddhism and used in ceremonies such as taking of vows. It symbolized both the wheel of the Law, and smoothing the path before one, or breaking down the enemies in one's own mind. A second motif - with alternating pink and red circles around a central disc -represents the stars. This star motif was popular among the aristocracy of centuries ago. As this motif has eight stars, it shows an association with the worship of Ursa Major, adopted during the Heian period and gradually worked into Buddhist belief - and particularly belief in the protective war deity Myoken. The distinctive large red script is a stylized "bonji"("Brahma's characters"), a tradition deeply woven into Japan's heritage spanning 1200 years. Bonji consists of Sanskrit letters or characters, originally introduced to Japan during the emergence of Esoteric Buddhism from ancient India. Although now considered a dormant language, bonji characters played a crucial role in symbolizing the sacred endeavors of the Buddha and diverse deities in the realm of Esoteric Buddhism. In the teachings of Esoteric Buddhism, bonji characters were regarded as equally valuable as Buddhist statues and paintings. This particular bonji represents Fudō Myō-ō (aka "Acala"), the Immovable Wisdom King, guards Shingon Buddhism, defending Buddha and his teachings. He's a key force against evil, directly representing dainichi Nyorai, the primary Buddha of Shingon. Introduced to Japan by monk Kūkai, Fudō evolved into a separate deity and remains widely depicted in Japanese art.
Fudō is associated with a specific Buddhist ceremony in Japan known as the "Goma Fire Ritual." This ritual is primarily conducted within the Shingon and Tendai Buddhist traditions. The Goma Fire Ritual is a highly symbolic and intense ceremony where the principal deity invoked and worshiped is Fudō. During the Goma Fire Ritual, a sacred fire is ignited in a consecrated area. The flames symbolize the wisdom of Fudō, and they are believed to purify and destroy all negative influences, obstacles, and illusions. The participants recite mantras and offer wooden sticks with written prayers (called "goma") into the fire as part of their supplication to Fudō for protection and guidance. It is possible that this kimono was worn for this ceremony. (Thanks to Mark Schumacher of Onmark Productions for pointing out the bonji translation as "Fudo"). 50"/127cm from sleeve-end to sleeve-end x 64"/163cm height.