[JAPANESE PRINTING]. A Hyakumanto pagoda with associated printed dharani. Nara Period (ca 770 CE).
A three-tier turned wood pagoda with detachable finial covering an interior cavity containing a block-printed dharani [charm] with the standard 31-column text of five characters per column, 465 x 61 mm, with fitted inscribed wood box. (The scroll lined on verso.) 8 3/8in. (21.2cm.) high.
THE EARLIEST AUTHENTICATED PHYSICAL EXAMPLE OF PRINTING
The Empress Shotoku, either in gratitude or hopes for the end of civil strife or to atone for an inappropriate liaison with a Buddhist monk (accounts vary), commissioned one million miniature pagodas to be placed in Buddhist temples throughout Japan. Each hyakumanto contained in its hollow core one small scroll, called dharani, in Sanskrit with Chinese characters, printed on paper from either a wood block or metal plate (historians disagree on the production method). The Buddhist charm or prayer is an excerpt from a sutra (a collection of precepts) that promises expiation of sin and the awarding of religious merit through the copying of prayers and construction of the repositories. There was a selection of four texts for the dharani. This is the earliest authenticated physical example of printing (there is a Korean contender), preceding Gutenberg’s moveable type by several centuries. Although there remain pagodas in the temple at Huryuji, examples of the hyakumanto are fairly rare outside of Japan.