SOAS University of London

Japan Research Centre

Body Like Withered Wood and Heart like Dead Ashes. Reconfiguring the Remains of Kamatari’s Statue at Tōnomine

Dr Benedetta Lomi (University of Bristol)

Date: 3 November 2021Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 3 November 2021Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Virtual Event

Type of Event: Webinar

Tonomine engi emaki
Tonomine engi emaki 多武峯縁起絵巻. Property of the Tanzan Shrine and Nara Women's University Academic Information Center.


At the beginning of Jōgen 2 (1208), Kinpusen armed troops stormed Tōnomine, setting fire to worship halls and monastic quarters and destroying several sacred items. During the attack, the portrait statue (miei) of Fujiwara Kamatari (614-669) was reduced to ashes and, in the chaos that ensued, these ashes became mixed with rubble and debris. Rumbles coming from the mountain sent a clear sign that a major offence had taken place, leading members of the Fujiwara clan to carry out numerous divinations and launch an investigation into the handling of the incident, all meticulously recorded in the Inokuma Kampaku ki, the personal diary of Konoe Iezane (1179-1243). At the core of the inquiry was the thorny issue of the statue’s ashes. Over the course of several months, Fujiwara scholars tried to establish whether the ashes were genuine, whether they should be interred, installed in a newly made statue, or thrown away altogether. To do so, they relied on the help of diviners, investigated illustrious precedents, but also reflected on the nature of the materials involved. What is a miei, and is it replaceable? And what kind of substance ashes are? Simply dead fire or possibly something more?

While these discussions are not surprising, given the notorious complexity of disposing of sacred waste, in this talk, I suggest that such difficulty is linked to the coexistence of multiple understandings of the ontology of sacred materials. These required individuals and institutions to carefully weigh their actions against numerous variables and decide how to proceed depending on the specific circumstances.

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Body Like Withered Wood and Heart like Dead Ashes. Reconfiguring the Remains of Kamatari’s Statue at Tōnomine

Speaker Biography

Dr Benedetta Lomi is Lecturer in East Asian Religions at the University of Bristol, where she teaches courses on different aspects of Chinese and Japanese religions, from the premodern to the contemporary periods. Her research focuses on medieval Japanese Buddhism, with a particular emphasis on the performative, healing, and transformative dimensions of Esoteric rituals and objects. Some of her research questions pertain to the way in which people engage in ritual activities or with devotional items to shape their body and mind, as well as the degree to which religious practices actively shape their lifeworld. 

Organiser: SOAS Japan Research Centre

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