Locating the "Six" Kannon Sculpture Group of Tomyoji

Sherry Fowler
The University of Kansas

  The group of five Buddhist sculptures from the temple Tomyoji, in the Kamo area of Kyoto prefecture, makes an excellent case study of images of the cult of the Six Kannon in Japan. Kannon often appears in multiple manifestations to enhance benefits for sentient beings and the Six Kannon together have a special role to aid beings trapped in the six realms of transmigration. The Six Kannon cult flourished during the tenth through the fifteenth centuries, but as most of the image sets have been scattered or destroyed, we are left with a fragmented impression. Although historical records indicate that there were once six Kannon images at Tomyoji, today there are only five, one of which contains an inscription datable to 1308. Some of the images differ in size and style so they were likely made by different workshops, but they all appear to have been made around the same time. As Tomyoji was a fairly modest temple, it may have been easier to assemble a group of images together to conform to the Six Kannon concept, rather than create a new set to install in the new main hall in the fifteenth century. Later on Tomyoji featured these images when it became one stop on a pilgrimage route dedicated to the deity Kannon.
  The images are now housed in a concrete storehouse at the original site, yet the place no longer functions as a temple. Goryo Jinja helps maintain the storehouse with assistance from a Buddhist organization formed in 1919. The sculptures are now lined up across a stage on a simulated altar inside the storehouse. Other items of historical significance, such as old tiles, historic photographs, and a small model of the former temple are displayed, creating an archive to retell the temple's story.
  What happens to buildings when a Buddhist temple goes defunct? The fifteenth century Tomyoji main hall, the former home of these Kannon images, was damaged by a typhoon in 1948 and remained unused on site until 1982 when it was donated and moved across Japan to Sankeien Garden in Yokohama. The building, no longer a place for worship, was restored and now functions as one of the architectural attractions in the park. On display inside the building, the restored tabernacle that once held the Kannon images enshrines a replica of one of the original Kannon.
  What makes the story of the Tomyoji "Six" Kannon so compelling is how disparate the fragments of their past have become. The images may have been assembled into a set by the fifteenth century and later one was lost. With the five sculptures now in a secure storage facility on the original site and their former building moved to an architectural park in Yokohama, the reconstruction of these images back into a group of Six Kannon forces us to consider the roles of temple/park attraction and sacred/secular within their history.