Words of Wisdom: Buddhist Calligraphy from Japan

Freer Gallery of Art | Gallery 7

Historical records suggest that writing began in Japan around the year 552 when political and religious emissaries from the Korean kingdom of Baekje arrived, equipped with handheld Buddhist sculptures and sutras in literary Chinese. Prior to that moment, Japan had not yet developed a written language of its own, and the introduction of writing changed the country’s history forever.

The arrival of both Buddhism and the written language changed the religious system of Japan; introduced a new consciousness for expressing personal thoughts, larger concepts, and political power; and charted a new course for the country’s intellectual, linguistic, political, and artistic domains. The cultural shift from an oral tradition to a written one was accompanied by a rich fabric of artistic, architectural, and literary expression. This exhibition brings together different types of script presented in various formats to illustrate a journey of objects, knowledge, and cultural identity.

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