Resource: A-to-Z Dictionary of Japanese Buddhist Statuary and Religious Art

azChances are that if you have tried to google something about Buddhist deities, particularly some of the rarer ones, you’ve come across the A-to-Z Dictionary of Japanese Buddhist Statuary and Religious Art. Run by Mark Schumacher, an independent researcher with a passion for Buddhist statues, symbolism, and history in general, this site offers some of the most comprehensive information on Buddhist (and to a lesser extent Shintō) figures in Japanese tradition. Schumacher was challenged by the inability to find concrete information on the background and meaning of deities and their representations, so he began photographing and investigating them on his own, leading to a truly expansive repository of information.

az2His website includes both basic introductory information as well as more complex backgrounds on these deities, including a quickstart guide for Buddhist Teachings and their history and chronological development, a guide to the basics of Buddhism aimed at students and teachers, deity guides (with photographs) to help you understand who’s who and how Buddhist deities are classified, and even guides to broader topics that have an impact on Buddhist practices such as celestial worship and information as it occurred in China and Japan.

The actual A-to-Z index of deities (found on the bottom left-hand side of the page) lists a great variety of figures, and in addition to providing useful summary explanations of each one, there are also diverse images from different types of media (statues, paintings, etc.) to help you recognize these figures in actual art. Schumacher also includes explanations of the deities gleaned from other authoritative sources around the internet, such as JAANUS, and compiles them into one convenient place for the reader’s comparison. There are helpful lists included with each entry, such as alternate names for deities and their kanji, which allows visitors to see what different areas with Buddhist call the same figure.

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In all, there are hundreds of deities included, over 4,000 images, and over 1,000 pages of information, making this an invaluable source for amateur or professional interests alike. The extensive combination of textual and visual sources is especially helpful, and though there is an overwhelming amount of materials to navigate, there is also an embedded search bar to get at more specific information. It is easy to get lost in the maze of deities, so be sure to block off some time to tackle it!

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About Paula

Paula lives in the vortex of graduate life. She studies medieval Japanese history.
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