The altar at Hōryūji with Shaka Trinity in central position.
Legend says the central statue was made in the image of Prince Shōtoku Taishi. Reportedly made by Kuratsukuri no Tori 鞍作止利, a Chinese (or perhaps Korean) emigrant who founded the Tori Busshi 止利仏師 school of early Buddhist sculpture in Japan.
Tori-shiki sculpture was influenced by the Buddhist art of China’s Northern Wei 魏 kingdom (late 4th to 6th centuries).
Shōtoku also maintained strong relations with many immigrants from mainland Asia.
Among these was Hatano Kawakatsu (秦河勝), the leader of the Hata 秦 clan, a group of immigrants from central Asia (as far west as Assyria) who traveled along the silk road, and finally made their way to Japan via Korea and China in the 4th century, bringing their Christian faith as well.
Wood statues too were mostly imported or copied from Korean and Chinese models, but it wasn’t until the late 7th century that wood statues exceeded bronze sculptures in popularity.
Below we present some of the most widely known bronze pieces: Shaka Triad (Shaka Sanzonzō 釈迦三尊像)Treasure of Hōryūji Temple 法隆寺 (Nara), 632 ADHistorical Buddha (aka Shaka) surrounded byattendants Monju Bosatsu and Fugen Bosatsu.
(Editor’s Note: To people traveling east along the silk roads, Japan’s Naniwa and Nara areas were the eastern terminus.
Conversely, for Japanese people traveling west, Naniwa or modern-day Osaka was considered the gateway to Korea, China, and greater Asia.) Hatano was, by many accounts, an important counselor to Prince Shōtoku.
Equally baffling are the nut-like objects held in each hand by the attendants.
Professor Smith also makes some very interesting remarks about the famous Guze Kannon (see below), also reportedly made in the image of Prince Shōtoku.
Korea and China bring Buddhism to Japan during the Asuka Period, with the earliest sculptures and texts imported first from Korea then China.