Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Ōtsu-e of Shōmen Kongōyasha (Vajrayaksha)

Edo period (1615–1868)
17th century
Hanging scroll; ink, color, and hand-colored woodblock print on paper
Image: 23 x 9 1/8 in. (58.4 x 23.2 cm)
Overall: 23 x 11in. (58.4 x 27.9 cm)
Credit Line:
The Harry G. C. Packard Collection of Asian Art, Gift of Harry G. C. Packard, and Purchase, Fletcher, Rogers, Harris Brisbane Dick, and Louis V. Bell Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, 1975
Accession Number:
Not on view
In the Edo period, images of the fierce blue-bodied deity Shōmen Kongōyasha served as the central icon for the popular rite of kōshin machi (or konoesaru machi), an all-night gathering occurring once every sixty days. In a conflation of Daoist and Buddhist beliefs, Kongōyasha presided over this gathering on the night when three worms said to reside in the human body escaped during one’s sleep to report on transgressions to the heavenly deity Taishakuten. People stayed up together to prevent the worms’ ability to leave their bodies and inform on them, thereby avoiding having their lives shortened on the basis of unfavorable reports.

The earlier of the two Ōtsu-e is closer in form to standard painted Buddhist icons, although more simple in execution. In accordance with descriptions in sacred texts, two attendants stand to the left and right of Kongōyasha, who stands upon two demons, while before him are four fierce yasha (Sanskrit: yaksha), wielding a variety of weapons. In the later, simplified version, Kongōyasha stands on a rock, flanked by two monkeys. The monkeys, who replace the attendant figures in earlier versions of the iconography, relate to the saru of konoesaru, indicating days of the sexagenary calendar associated with the monkey, or saru in Japanese. They also represent the avoidance of evil, a main goal of the all-night vigil. In front of Kongōyasha are a rooster and hen, both woodblock printed, possibly a reminder that people born in the year of the bird looked to Fudō Myōō, to which Kogōyashi is closely connected, as their protective deity.
[ Harry G. C. Packard , Tokyo, until 1975; donated and sold to MMA].
New York. Japan Society Gallery. "Otsu-e: Japanese Folk Paintings from the Helen and Edson Spencer Collection," November 16, 1994–January 8, 1995.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Five Thousand Years of Japanese Art: Treasures from the Packard Collection," December 17, 2009–June 10, 2010.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Arts of Japan," February 1, 2014–September 7, 2014.

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