ORIENTAL SUBLIME: S?KKURAM IN THE JAPANESE IMPERIAL LANDSCAPE

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  • ABSTRACT

    The purpose of the present article is to demonstrate that Sŏkkuram attained its status as a work of art through Japanese and Korean intellectuals’ efforts to invent or elevate the East and that the eulogy of its art was involved in the self-legitimizing and self-aggrandizing culture of imperial Japan. The sculptures of the grotto were not dis-connected from the context of Buddhist ceremonies and practices and discussed in terms of art until they became the object of Japanese critical discourse accommodating western notions of art. Yanagi Muneyoshi, the author of the first critical essay ever written on Sŏkkuram as a work of art, tried to explain its formal features and their significance from a viewpoint of romantic and Blakean art and assumed as its character-izing and inclusive category an Eastern art which had held its unifying ground in Buddhism. His analysis of Sŏkkuram was in line with attempts to invent Buddhist art in correspondence to Christian art and, ultimately, the East to the West. In his “Sunset,” a short-story set against Kyŏngju, Yi T’ae-jun was interested in capturing what he himself had called “Eastern sentiment” evoked by the historic remains in the old capital city of Silla and located its consummation in the sublimity of Sŏkkuram. Compared to the eleven-faced-Kwanŭm bodhisattva in the text, the heroine T’aok is not just an em-bodiment of compassion toward all mortal beings, but also a symbol of a new East that was the dominant theme of Japanese wartime ideology. As Japan’s war intensified, and as the culture of imperial Japan took a fascist turn, the aesthetic of Sŏkkuram became ir-revocably politicized. Buddhism, the source of elevating representations of the grotto, served in the war effort in the form of Imperial-Way Buddhism. The aesthetic of Oriental sublime was thus inseparably entangled with Japanese imperialist fantasies.


  • KEYWORD

    S?kkuram , Ky?ngju , Silla , Chos?n Art Exhibition , the sublime , Asianism , Orientalism , imperialism , colonialism , Buddhism , bodhisattva

  • I. LANDSCAPE WITH A STONE TEMPLE

    Korea provided the Japanese during their age of empire with not just a territory for their political, economic and military activities, but also resources for their aesthetic pleasure. For Japanese settlers, travelers, and administrators, the land of Korea often became separated from the idea of a place for residence and labor and was transformed into nature as an object of appreciation, in other words, into landscape. The Japanese could not but have been foreigners to Korea as a historical land, but their otherness positioned them advantageously to find Korea’s unique landscapes. In particular, when aesthetically trained Japanese looked at Korea’s natural world they projected their familiar notions or experience of landscape and represented or reshaped the world so that it came close to what they understood forms of landscape to be. For example, Kawai Gyokudo, a major figure in Japanese painting who was on the selection committee for the first Chosŏn Art Exhibition hosted by the government general in 1922, gave a lecture afterwards in which he confessed he had been moved by the things and scenes in Korea and expressed his high expectations for the paintings that could be produced thanks to the exhibition system being set up in the beautiful site of local custom.

    According to Kawai, Korean paintings would differ from their historical precedents because they would be created under the influence of Western and Japanese culture, and they would differ from their Japanese counterparts because the exhibitions would take place in the civilization of traditional Korea. Kawai found Korean paintings to have been destined to produce their own “local color” and called upon Korean painters to produce “works corresponding to their land.” He entrusted Korean painters with the task of transforming their land into landscape. Oriental-style painting (tongyanghwa), the category for which Kawai was a committee member was, of course, an art of creating such landscapes. He praised Hŏ Paeng-nyŏn’s second prize winning work, saying that it presented Korea’s local color, which could not be seen in the southern-style painting of China or Japan.1 It should be noted that the government-general-sponsored exhibition encouraged the production of Korea’s local color from its beginning. W. J. T. Mitchell famously argued that the concept of landscape and the practice of landscape painting arose as a medium with which imperialism emancipated and unified the world for its own purposes, in other words, as a “dreamwork of imperialism,” and this seems to hold true of Korean landscape aesthetics under Japanese imperialism.2

    The dreamwork of imperialism is aimed at creating “a utopian fantasy of an empire’s perfect landscape” by incorporating foreign lands on its periphery into the styles, techniques and conventions of artistic representation cherished and circulated in its center. If it can be said that nineteenth-century European art realized a landscape aesthetics controlling colonial differences in its trends of orientalism, primitivism, and exoticism, a similar development occurred in the Korean local art movement led by Japanese. As a matter of fact, Korean things and scenes provided materials useful in demonstrating pictorial techniques from the early stage of modern Japanese art. Hana kago [A flower basket], a masterpiece painted by Fujishima Takeji, who undertook a research tour of Korea in 1913 as a leading proponent of Western-style painting, featured a Korean woman in her traditional clothing as its subject matter. It is considered representative of a Japanese impressionist school known as “external-light academicism.” [Plate 1] Fujishima was so moved by the beauty of Korea’s natural scenery as to write that while Japan’s landscape compares with that of Switzerland, Korea’s landscape would be a match for that of Italy.”3

    Painters who sent their works to the Chosŏn Art Exhibition were acquainted with the representational conventions of both the Western and Oriental painting styles developed by the Japanese, and employed them to serve the utopian fantasy of Japanese imperialism. Objects for painting tended to be confined to what were generally believed to be Korea’s local particularities, such as tile-roofed or thatched houses, pastoral peasant villages, and old folks, women and children in their traditional costumes, and they were often fixed as images of the Other in relation to a civilized, urbanized, mature and masculine Japan.4 Images of a premodern Other to the modern Japanese self are conspicuous among the pictorial representations of Korean land. It is very easy to find instances of Korean landscape imbued with projections of Japanese imperialist fantasy; a typical one is Yi In-sŏng’s Keishū no tanima nite [In a mountain valley of Kyŏngju], winner of the Ch’angdŏk Palace prize in the 1935 exhibition.

    Around the time Yi In-sŏng presented his oil painting saturated by a local aesthetic sense, Kyŏngju was among the tourist attractions on the Korean peninsula. Kyŏngju’s colonial development concentrated on the excavation and management of its historical remains, transforming it from a Confucian Korean town into the old capital of Silla representative of a glorious antiquity in Korea. The mountain valley depicted by Yi shows a combination of images that Japanese and Koreans both thought of as being unique to Korea.5 [Plate 2] First of all, there are the blue sky and yellow earth that deeply impressed all foreigners who paid attention to the natural beauty of the country during the early twentieth century. Yi divides the picture horizontally into the sky and the earth and paints the colors in stark contrast. Arranged at both sides are two small, round-headed, and dark-skinned boys, who, looking like children of nature, are also reminiscent of a distinct and agricultural Korea. In particular, the boy with a baby on his back was, like the small-statured girl carrying a child in a similar posture in Yi Yŏng-il’s Nōson no kodomo [Children in a farm village]—winner of the special com-mendation prize in 1929—a typical visual cliché of the Korean landscape that produced a number of imitations. The valley in Kyŏngju depicted by Yi In-sŏng seems to represent a Korean landscape in all its naturalness, primitiveness, and destituteness.

    What distinguishes Yi’s Kyŏngju is its invocation of a Korean antiquity. The boy on the left of the picture turns his face toward Ch’ŏmsŏngdae, an astronomical observatory that towers in the background. The boy on the right side casts his eyes upon some fragments of roofing tiles lying scattered in the foreground. These objects call to mind the ups and downs of the ancient kingdom that built its capital city there. In looking at the face of the boy, who holds something like a flute in his left hand, and who seems as if he were sunk in meditation with his long slanted eyes, one might think of the face of a stone Buddha image abandoned in the wilderness of a mountain, or that of the principal Buddha figure within Sŏkkuram on Mt. T’oham.6 The Kyŏngju valley in the painting constitutes a primitive landscape with no trace of historical development. It presumably gives intensity to the aspect of the city that put Japanese visitors like Tayama Katai under the illusion of entering “scroll paintings from the Fujiwara and Heian dynasties.”7

    It was primarily Japanese interest in Silla that turned Kyŏngju into an ancient landscape. According to Japanese historical records such as the section on Empress Jingū in Nihon shoki (The chronicles of Japan) Silla belonged to the southern part of the peninsula conquered in the ancient time by the Japanese court, and, therefore, the survey and preservation of Silla’s historical remains served Japan’s imperial purposes. Such archaeological work helped the Japanese ground their colonial expansion historically and demonstrated their authority as rulers of the peninsula. The repair work on Sŏkkuram conducted for some two years from 1913 on the instruction of Governor-General Terauchi Masatake is representative of this. In the past the grotto temple had been a poetic object as well as a scenic spot for yangban aristocratic literati and also a site of prayer and picnics for commoners, but as it was rescued from its ruined state under the planning and control of a Japanese engineer employed by the colonial government it took on a new function.8 The temple established an irreplaceable basis for the notion of Silla as a kingdom of ancient art and contributed to the construction of a geo-cultural sphere that would guarantee the hegemonic power of the Japanese empire.

    In his poem-like essay on a visit he paid in 1921, Asakawa Noritaka, known for his research on and collection of Korean porcelain, wrote that the grotto awakened a strong sense of Tōyō (the Orient or the East). In the minds of the Silla people who had built Sŏkkuram on the top of Mt. T’oham Asakawa detected an invocation of the Buddha’s protection for travel by sea between Silla and Nara Japan and saw traces of the “unilinear flow of beauty” created by Tang China, Silla, Paekche and Nara Japan. The existence of Sŏkkuram called for the revival of a great Orient, as Asakawa wrote, “Eternal Sŏkkuram, you who speak the words of God/ May the people of the Orient return to their homeland deep in your heart.”9 The Orient in its Japanese and Korean senses was conceptually invented, as a result of the conflict between Asian countries brought about by the impact of the West and in Japan’s efforts to resolve the conflict by expanding its regional power. However, it was also an identity whose origin returned to an Asian past, but which was constructed along the lines of a modern understanding of that past.10 It was a fantasy as well as a concept, a landscape as well as a territory. What I would like to argue is that Sŏkkuram as understood and cherished in colonial Korea was fundamentally constitutive of a fantastic and aestheticized Orient and provided a major source of inspiration for an orientalist aesthetics bound up with Japanese imperialist fantasies. Any in-depth discussion of the aesthetic effect of the stone temple cannot avoid also exploring its involvement with Japanese fascism.

    1Kawai Gyokudō (1922), p. 8, 12, 13.  2W. J. T. Mitchell (2002), pp. 10–13.  3Fujishima Takeji (1982), p. 248.  4Much examination has been made of the localism as expressed in the works presented to the Chosŏn Art Exhibition. Pak Kye-ri (1996) and Kimu He-shin (2005) are still useful among others.  5Among those who are said to have led Yi In-sŏng’s interest to Kyŏngju was Shiraga Jukichi, the principal of Kyŏngbuk Women’s High School, whose passion included collecting and studying old Korean artworks. It was also he who opened the way for Yi to study abroad in Japan after Yi was awarded the special recommendation prize at the 1931 Chosŏn Art Exhibition with his oil painting “Seibo gairo [A street scene at a year’s end],” a portrayal of the main street of his hometown Taegu. (Sin Su-gyŏng, 2006, p. 50, 95.) Some results have recently come out of research on Japanese colonials who had an influence on the understanding of Kyŏngju. Kim Hyŏn-suk (2007) deals with the Society for the Preservation of Historic Remains in Kyŏngju, Chŏng In-sŏng (2009) with the same association and Moroga Hideo, one of the Japanese directors of Kyŏngju Museum, and Hwang Jongyon (2010) with Kimura Shizuo, the first Japanese administrator of Kyŏngju, and Ōsaka Kintarō, a principal of Kyŏngju Elementary School and a director of Kyŏngju Museum.  6It was argued during the colonial period that the primary Buddha image reminded its viewers of a child’s face. See Chosŏn ch’ongdokbu (2004), p. 42.  7Tayama Rokui [Katai] (1924), p. 456.  8One of the good examples of poems by yangban literati concerning Sŏkkuram is “Sŏkkul [A stone cave]” which Ōsaka Kintarō selected for his anthology from Yi Kwan-o’s (1740–1815) collected works. See Kogo misul tong’in (1962). The habit of worshipping the Buddha statue in Sŏkkuram among the Korean community of Kyŏngju was briefly mentioned by Nakamura Ryōhei in his book on the grotto. (Nakamura Ryōhei, 1929, p. 31) It is a far-fetched, Japan-centric idea found in books like Chōsen bijutsu taikan (A comprehensive view of Korean art, 1910) that the temple was discovered by the Japanese and, in particular, by Sōne Arasuke, then Vice-Resident-General who made a tour of Kyŏngju. Some historical records and drawings that belie the claim made by the Japanese colonials are discussed by South Korean scholars. See Kim Sang-hyŏn (1991) and Kang Hŭi-chŏng (2012), pp. 136–151.  9Asakawa Noritaka (1923), p. 134.  10See Yonetani Masafumi (2006), especially the first part (pp. 1–73).

    II. A BLAKEAN ARTIST’S MIND: YANAGI MUNEYOSHI ON S?KKURAM

    After it was brought to public attention by the colonial government, Sŏkkuram gained as much significance for Koreans as it had for Japanese, in fact, probably far more for Koreans than Japanese. Beginning with Tokyo Imperial University Professor Sekino Tadashi and other authorities on historic remains on the peninsula, the ruling class of colonial society recognized the artistic values of the grotto and the high level of Silla civilization, and this meant to contemporary Koreans that they were authenticated as the descendants of a great people. On September 20, 1923, about a month after repair work on Sŏkkuram had been completed, the Maeil sinbo [Maeil daily] carried an article entitled “Historic remains in the old city of Silla” with a picture of the grotto, which was appraised as a “collection of incomparable flowers of Oriental art.” The Tong’a ilbo [Dong-A daily], which dealt with Sŏkkuram on June 30, the same year, in its first installment of “Miracles of the world,” encouraged Koreans’ sense of nationhood by commending the Buddha figure as “the greatest of the oldest artworks in Asia.” However, around the time Sŏkkuram emerged in the Korean-language public sphere, it was not common to refer to Buddhist ruins as being within the category of “yesul” (art). It was during the late years of Meiji, i.e. around 1905, when geijutsu, the Japanese source of yesul, began to take on a meaning corresponding to that of art in Western languages. In the early Meiji period when Western concepts were being enthusiastically introduced, it was bijutsu rather than geijutsu that was most widely used to designate a Western concept of art. Bijutsu appeared first as a translation of the English “fine arts” and the German “schöne Kunst,” and carried the meaning of art in its earliest usages that included music, painting, sculpture, poetry, etc.11

    More important is the process whereby figurative items such as Buddha images that had traditionally been made for the purpose of Buddhist rituals came to be recognized as artworks. According to a Japanese art historian, after Japanese came across sculptures in museums and official residences on their visits to the capital cities of Western countries, they began to think of Buddha figures as their traditional equivalent of Western sculptural works. Shortly after Western-style institutions such as exhibitions and art schools were introduced, preeminent artisans of Buddhist icons were hired as college professors, and when a hall for Japan was arranged at the Vienna World Exhibition of 1873 a large Buddha image from Kamakura was put on display.12 In sum, it was as a result of the introduction of the Western concept of art into Korean through Japanese that remarks on Sŏkkuram as a great work of art emerged in Korean-language art criticism from the 1910s onwards.

    As is widely known, it was Yanagi Muneyoshi who made the first attempt to identify Sŏkkuram as a work of art. His “On the sculptures of Sŏkkuram,” published in the June 1919 issue of Geijutsu, set a standard of aesthetic appreciation and criticism concerning the topic. One of his important points is that Sŏkkuram is “not just the work of one country but a crystallization of the Buddhism of Sui and Tang China and of Oriental religion and art.” This idea is central to all the subsequent appraisals of the grotto given from the perspective of Asian or Buddhist art.13 Yanagi argues that the grotto with a Buddha image at the center of its interior had an Asian cave temple style which can be traced back to the Ajanta caves in Maharashitra, India, and tries to explain the way in which it leads its beholders to undergo at once a religious and aesthetic experience.14 His explanation reaches its climax when he describes the movement of the beholder’s gaze caused by the spatial structure and arrangement of the temple as coinciding with a series of religious feelings that are likely to be evoked in the mind: in his words, a sequence of “spiritual rhythms” pulsing toward “an utmost ecstasy of calm thinking and deep meditation.”

    Despite his moderate tone, in his elucidation of the artistic qualities of the grotto and their significance, Yanagi fails to hide the attitude of an elite aesthete who claims to speak for the history and culture of the imperial periphery. This attitude is revealed by his indifference to how Sŏkkuram had been hitherto understood and experienced by Koreans and by his description of his appreciation of the Buddhist artwork as being an effort to recover Koreans’ lost “honor,” made out of his own compassion for them. In her book on the Japanese folk art movement Kim Brandt demonstrates that Yanagi was among those Japanese intellectuals who self-consciously arranged themselves alongside their Western counterparts as imperial authorities by “claiming the power to discern Oriental objects, and even to create their proper meanings and uses.”15 It is difficult to deny that his engagement with Sŏkkuram represents a Japanese version of European Orientalism, though this is not the whole truth. [Plate 3]

    It was on September 1, 1916 when Yanagi visited Kyŏngju for the first time in his life. His interest in Korea is said to have begun about two years before when Asakawa Noritaka, then a school-teacher in Seoul, stimulated his interest in Korean arts and crafts while staying at his house in Abiko, Japan.16 In the early 1910s Yanagi was a loyal scholar of William Blake as well as a great admirer of August Rodin and Impressionist painters. Just like the other members of the Shirakaba group, Yanagi was committed to the idea of asserting and aggrandizing the individual and saw the self-expression of an artist as the ultimate end of art. He believed that art attained the highest power when unity prevailed between the self and nature, personality and things. In his view the greatness of Cezanne and other post-Impressionists was derived from their success in “expressing the total being of their individuality.”17 From the viewpoint of European intellectual history, his artistic individualism is not singular at all. There is no shortage of examples since the eighteenth century of British and German philosophers of art who articulated this idea in a more sophisticated and systematic way.

    Yanagi’s individualism has something in common with the notion of man and nature essential to European romanticism—what Charles Taylor calls expressivism. The latter assumes that each individual has his or her inner nature as a source of being human in his or her own way, the “inner élan” which also connects with a larger natural life or order. The expressivist view of human life makes art crucially important to modern culture because art exemplifies an individuated human activity whose aim is to realize individual nature through its expression, that is, making it manifest and definitive.18 What Yanagi saw in Blake is nothing other than expressivist principles of artistic creation. In his comment on Blake’s notion of imagination, he says that it creates a state in which ”the self and nature, mind and things, keep in contact with each other until they merge into one” and in that state the “world of reality, in other words, that of God is bestowed.” In the world of God, an artist undergoes self-annihilation, but this is an experience through which his or her being is ultimately magnified rather than negated. Yanagi does not hesitate to blur the boundaries between artistic creation and religious exultation, and even characterizes Blake’s art as a “religion of imagination.”19

    Some of Yanagi’s romantic and Blakean notions of art are projected into his essay on Sŏkkuram. Though he knew that it had been made in the style of stone temples whose precedents were found in India and China, he did not pay attention to the history of temple architecture or Buddhism. For him, Kim Tae-sŏng, the Silla architect to whom Sŏkkuram was attributed, was far more important as a point of reference for understanding its art. Prior to mentioning the artistic features of the grotto Yanagi concentrates on the architect who is described in Silla kŭktong T’ohamsan Pulguksa Hwaŏmjong sajŏk (Chronicle of the Pulguk Temple of the Hwaŏm Sect in Mt. T’oham to the East of the Silla Kingdom), a short history written by the Buddhist monk Iryŏn in late Koryŏ.20 An interpretation of Sŏkkuram that can be seen as Western or romantic appears in the way in which Yanagi sees the grotto as Kim’s “work” and its artistic structure and design as “manifestations of his mind.” He writes that “the grotto is, indeed, an expression of a plan unified by one mind. It is not an aggregation like the Ajanta or Lumon Caves of works from successive generations which cannot have a schematically arranged unity. It is so coherently constructed that only one mind can be found in its every corner.”21 What is the one and only mind that makes Sŏkkuram a single work of architecture? He answers that it is, above all, a religious one. “The unity” as found in the grotto is the “power that a great religious mind alone can bring forth.”

    Yanagi does not identify Kim’s religious mind, but it is obvious that it is related to a certain spiritual experience reiterated by Yanagi. It might be maintained that Kim’s religious mind is characterized by his own unique “inner depth and mystery” as he attained purity by immersing himself in a “history of spirit.” Needless to say, in Kim’s case, the history of spirit is alive in Buddhist teachings. Yanagi detects a “symbol of Buddhist wisdom which is at once dual and non-dual” in visual representations in the front room of the Deva kings known as Ahom. “A”is the first sound made when a mouth is open and “hom” the last sound when a mouth is shut, thus the two images, by extension, refer to the beginning and end of the universe. Yanagi further thinks of a “state of non-being embracing all beings” at the moment when he is moved by the Buddha image in the center of the grotto.22

    Yanagi’s essay on Sŏkkuram was influential among Koreans as well as among Japanese interested in Buddhist art. Ko Yu-sŏp’s and Pak Chong-hong’s articles on Korean art reveal that it was an important source of inspiration for their study. It is difficult to say, however, that it is still exemplary as a way of understanding the stone temple. Though Yanagi noticed that it had been a space for Buddhist ceremonies and practices, he was not interested in what significance the ceremonies and practices held in the history of Korean people. There are paragraphs in Iryŏn’s chronicle revealing that it was built in connection with dynastic rule in Silla, but the political dimensions of the grotto did not attract Yanagi’s attention.23 In addition, since he relied on Japanese settlers such as Okuda Yasushi for information on Sŏkkuram, he may have known that it was a site of prayer for the local population, but there is no consideration of its religious significance for the local people.24 It is a matter of dispute how exactly the religious experience which he assumed to be expressed in the grotto matches up to what had actually been experienced in the past by Koreans.

    In this regard, we need to note that the concept of religion he used is Western. Just like geijutsu or bijutsu, the term shūkyō (religion) emerged in efforts the Japanese made after plunging into the Western-dominated, globalizing world to obtain recognition of their country as equal to Western nations. It was invented with the intention of introducing Western concepts of religion into Japanese culture as Western-style institutions, including Christian churches, became powerful in Japan.25 The introduction of Western concepts of religion naturally brought about profound changes in beliefs, practices, and institutions that had traditionally been indicated by such words as k’yo (teaching), to (way), and pŏp (law). One of those changes was that a system of division of politics and religion was established in which freedom of religion was bestowed only in a private sphere that was separated from the public sphere of the state. The privatization of religion encouraged individuals to treat spiritual experience as something internal to their mind, as an effect of solitary meditation and practice. Yanagi’s description of Kim Tae-sŏng’s Buddhist belief seems to fall under the influence of this concept of religion in that it neglects the historical nature of his religious commitment as implied by Sŏkkuram’s relationship with Silla kingship and, instead, attaches it to “an immortal mind” named spirit.

    After accepting Western concepts of religion, Japanese intellectuals like Yanagi were faced with the task of re-describing their traditional system of religious teachings and beliefs and thereby of inventing Japanese or Asian forms of religion that corresponded to Western forms. Due to its traditional ways of teaching and worshiping gods and Buddhas, they found in Buddhism a counterpart of Christianity. For instance, Inoue Tetsujirō, an eminent first-generation scholar of Japanese religious studies and a pioneer of comparative religion in Japan, was quick to focus on what he thought had made Buddhism in India, China and Japan as great and universal a religion as Christianity. In particular, he believed that Buddhism was not only equal, but even superior to Christianity in its Mahayana tradition.26 When he began to emerge as a leading exponent of Eastern art, Yanagi, almost at the same time, was engaged in inventing an Oriental spirituality rooted in Buddhism, a work that earned him the position of Professor of Religion at Tōyō University in 1919. He followed Inoue’s steps in seeking parallels between Buddhist and Christian doctrines.

    The Buddhist idea of non-being that he used in his discussion on Sŏkkuram was, in fact, one of the major issues explored in his first book on religion, in which he put Buddhism on a par with Christianity and emphasized its spiritual significance. Before arguing that the concept of non-being is the same as Western concepts that designate God or reality in a negative way, he states that Buddhism is one religion which offers a spiritual home for Oriental peoples, and that “the very truth of ‘non-being’ has a distinctly Oriental color to it.”27 This makes us think that he did with the material of Sŏkkuram in the field of art criticism what he did in the field of religious studies. Interestingly, Yanagi observes that a series of Sŏkkuram sculptures carved over a long period of time reveal techniques developed over that passage of time and then argues that this characteristic can also be found in the Sistine Chapel fresco drawn by Michaelangelo during a five year period. Yanagi’s essay on Sŏkkuram invented the correspondence of Kim Tae-sŏng to William Blake, Buddhist art to Christian art, and ultimately the East to the West. According to his favorite logic of “non-duality,” the grotto became an immortal symbol of the East that was at once different from the West and the same as the West.

    11Kitazawa Noriaki (2010), pp. 144–160.  12Kinoshita Naoyuki (1993), pp. 15–38.  13Yanagi Muneyoshi (1981), vol. 6, p. 123.  14Together with Sekino Tadashi, Yanagi is one of those who first recognized the temple-like nature of the grotto. (Kang Hŭi-chŏng, 2012, pp. 152–158). Kang argues that their recognition of it as a temple of Indian origin is central to what she calls the modern rediscovery of Sŏkkuram. But I think such a diffusionist view is less important in identifying the modern quality of their understanding and evaluation of the grotto than the ideas of art, religion, and history which conditioned their art-historical or critical statements. I hope the present essay contributes to an examination of those ideas.  15Kim Brandt (2007), p. 36.  16Mizuo Hiroshi (1992), p. 55.  17Yanagi Muneyoshi (1981a), p. 565.  18Charles Taylor (1989), pp. 368-381.  19Yanagi Muneyoshi (1981c), pp. 303-11. The importance in the development of Yanagi’s thought of his early reading of Blake has been emphasized in some historical and critical work on him. Lately translated into Korean, Nakami Mari’s work (2003) is probably the most prominent.  20Yanagi disclosed that he transcribed a copy of Iryŏn’s chronicle in the possession of a friend of his during his stay in Kyŏngju. The friend may have been Okuda Yasushi (1867–1933), a colonial from Chikuse, Japan. He was well-educated to the extent that he had studied Chinese poetry with Natsume Soseki in his youth, and somehow held the position of Manager of Royal Mausolea in Kyŏngju from 1914, one year after he had failed to take his seat in the Imperial Assembly (Kirihara Mitsuaki, 1947). He appears in Yi Kwang-su’s travel account of Kyŏngju as a Japanese authority on the historic remains of the city. (Yi Kwang-su, 1963, pp. 185–186) Yanagi wrote in addition to his comment on Sŏkkuram that Okuda would soon publish his introduction to the city. In 1920 He published Silla kyūto Keishū shi, which contains a classical Chinese original and a Japanese translation of Iryŏn’s chronicle.  21Yanagi Muneyoshi (1981d). The unity of Sŏkkuram that Yanagi saw as originating from the individual mind of Kim Tae-sŏng is the first and foremost reason why he appraised it as an outstanding work of art. Yanagi claimed that the repair work on Sŏkkuram carried out under the direction of the engineer Ijima Kennosuke had resulted in it being partially damaged. Furthermore, according to his judgment alterations had been made to the grotto without consideration of its artistic composition to the effect that its original unity had been destroyed.  22lbid., pp. 130–131, 135.  23“And then [Kim Tae-sŏng] brought demons under his control by asking two saints, Sillim and P’yohun, to head the two temples [Pulguksa and Sŏkkuram], heightened Silla’s kingship by bringing peace to the country, and did his best engaged in missionary work. Yanagi Muneyoshi (1981d), p. 117. The English translation of the Iryŏn’s sentence in Chinese is mine and is different from its Korean translation done by Sim U-sŏng in his “Sŏkpulsa ŭi chogak e taehayŏ.” Yanagi Muneyoshi (1996), p. 33.  24Ōsaka Kintarō wrote that the Korean people in the Kyŏngju community had a custom of going into the grotto through a crevice in its dome, believing that there was a Buddha inside who had a divine power to transform female to male children. See Ōsaka Rokuson, Shumi no Keishū (Pleasures of Kyŏngju), second edition (Keishū koseki hozonkai, 1934), p. 103. Ōsaka is referred to by Yanagi in a postscript to his essay on Sŏkkuram as “the head of the Chichi cottage,” who edited Silla kyūto Keishū annai [A guide to Kyŏngju, the old capital city of Silla]. According to the introductory note to the 1934 enlarged and revised edition of the book, Ōsaka was commissioned to work on the first edition, published in 1911, by the Kyŏngju Kojŏk Pojonhoe (Society for the Preservation of Historic Remains in Kyŏngju).  25According to Isomae Junichi, a leading scholar of Japanese religion, there were primarily two kinds of Japanese translations of the word religion, one being centered on its sense of conventional and practical activities, shūshi, and the other focused on a system of conceptualized beliefs, kyōhō, and shūkyō became established as a translation that unified both of them around 1880. See Isomae Junichi (2003), pp. 29–38.  26lbd., pp. 67–96.  27Yanagi Muneyoshi (1981b), pp. 14–15, 21–23.

    III. AN EPIPHANY OF NIHILISM―YI T’AE-JUN ON S?KKURAM

    Along with the rearrangement of the streets of Kyŏngju begun around 1910 when Japan annexed Korea, the government-general’s repair work on Sŏkkuram may have initiated the modern age in the history of the city. As demonstrated by a newspaper article that applauded the stone temple as one of the city’s historic remains, its existence was one of the main reasons why popular journalism paid information on the historic remains in Kyŏngju because some literature on the city was available, such as handed-down local histories written in classical Chinese and Sekino’s report on his survey of its old architecture and craftwork, but the idea of the town as the ancient capital city of Silla became popular with Koreans as the preservation of Sŏkkuram began to be reported by newly emerging Korean-language print media as an administrative achievement of the government-general. The Kyŏngju Kojŏk Pojonhoe (Society for the Preservation of Historic Remains in Kyŏngju), founded by local officials in 1911, reorganized itself and launched a series of projects, giving support to the government-general’s repair work on the grotto temple.28 Assigned the right to survey, preserve, and exhibit historic remains, the society consolidated the representation of Kyŏngju with a focus on its connection with Silla, consequently marginalizing the heritage of one thousand years of post-Silla kingdoms. The society also took part in developing the historic remains as resources for the tourist industry through the management of the Exhibition Hall, the predecessor of the present-day Kyŏngju Museum, and other ventures.

    After the discovery of Sŏkkuram as a work of art, Kyŏngju took top position alongside the Kŭmgang Mountains as a tourist attraction, adjusting to a new environment where the railway made sightseeing in Manchuria and Korea popular in Japanese society. It is, thus, not strange at all that the experiences of Kyŏngju narrated in the works of Korean and Japanese writers are mostly touristic in nature. In the case of Yi T’ae-jun’s short-story “Sŏgyang” (Sunset), the male character Maehŏn relies on the transportation system and excursion routes developed for the purposes of the tourist industry as well as the colonial administration. As if acknowledging inadvertently that he was joining in the Japanese-led commodified pilgrimage through the historic and the beautiful, Maehŏn makes his first stop on his excursion the “Museum,” the center of an aestheticized Kyŏngju. He then stops at an antique shop, which is a miniature of the city, as an age-old place turned into a tourist attraction, and there he meets a young woman named T’aok, who will later strike him as “an eternal woman.”29

    In his profession, aesthetic taste, and other respects, Maehŏn brings to mind the author Yi T’ae-jun, as a middle-aged man with a successful writing career who has begun to feel old. T’aok, a young woman of urbanized beauty, makes him more sadly aware of his age while inciting a passion for love in him. He becomes acquainted with her in Orŭng. It would seem absurd to Korean readers today for a romantic affair to be set against the background of Orŭng, which is a group of five tombs of the founder of Silla and other royal family members. But aesthetic pilgrims of Yi’s time used to consider the tombs as impressive as any other scenic spot. For example, Katō Shōrinjin, a major figure of Oriental painting in colonial Korea who served as a selection committee member for the Chosŏn Art Exhibition, had a brilliant prize-winning career, and even worked once as a painting instructor for Korea’s imperial household, wrote of Orŭng that “with the dreams of Silla it evokes, it is a scene to paint that could be found nowhere but in Kyŏngju.”30 [Plate 4]

    The unique scenic beauty of the tombs facilitates communication between Maehŏn and T’aok. When he is fascinated by the “surreal, strange spectacle,” in which five mammoth mounds sit near each other in harmony, she moves him by referring to it as “nihil” (nihilistic). The word, rich with Western and literary nuances, strikes a chord with painful feelings he begins to have about the transience of human existence, and with the thought of nothingness or non-being which the overwhelming presence of mortality in the spectacle possibly evoked in his mind. After the Orŭng scene, “nihil” is used as a key word in describing the impressions of natural scenes and historic remains for which he feels some affection. Though he comes across historic remains that feel different from Orŭng, i.e., the pagodas in Pulguksa that are more natural and solemn than “human bodies in Greek art” and the Buddha image that overwhelms with its vigorous beauty, it is Orŭng and Yŏngji, a lake whose image looks the same as the tombs to him, which seem to represent the charms of Kyŏngju. The age-old city covered by tombs and ruins seems like a mirror of his psychological state in which he is acutely aware of his enervated body, and has an inadvertent premonition of his own death. (130, 135)

    In Maehŏn’s view, the impression of Orŭng and Yŏngji which is “nihil” arises from the lines dominant in their scenery. His exclamation over the surreal-looking tombs that “pierce his heart with their profundity the more he watches them” is followed by his comment on their aesthetic evocations: “They are too simple accumulations of soil to be royal mausolea. Their lines are too lovable to be tombs. The lines rise from and sink back to the earth like rainbows hanging over the sky, as if they were flowing into infinite space.”(123) It was not so unique an aesthetic attitude to look at Korean figurative artifacts and artworks like Orŭng and single out their linear forms for appreciation. Kim Yong-jun, an Oriental painting artist and close friend of Yi T’ae-jun, argues that Korean art has a sensibility beginning from the line and ending with the line regardless of whether it is music, dance, or plastic arts and takes Sŏkkuram sculptures as the strongest expression of such a sensibility.31

    As is widely known, Yanagi Muneyoshi was the first to formulate the idea that Korean art was an art of lines. In a famous essay of 1922 he asserts that the beauty of lines is a defining trait of Korean art, observing that curvilinear forms stand out in Korean arts and crafts ranging from the roofs of houses to patterns inlaid in porcelain.32 However, whereas Yanagi interprets the beauty of lines as an expression of sadness and further connects it to the unfortunate history of the Korean people, Yi T’ae-jun has Maehŏn faced with ultimate non-being as a universal metaphysical truth rather than with a particular historical experience of a particular people. The alter ego of Yi finds “mysterious rest” in those “mysterious lines of Orŭng.”(124) Seen historically, Maehŏn’s aesthetic thinking is in the tradition of Asian arts and religions with a shared common doctrine of emptiness or non-being. We should recall here that Yi was an advocate of Orientalist aesthetics in the 1930s. His essay “An Eastern feeling” categorizes Li P’o’s poems, Zen Buddhism, the aesthetic of sabi and several other artistic and religious expressions as Eastern. According to Yi, the East does not just have its own tradition, but opposes the West in the matters of art and aesthetics, and the opposition between them can be reduced to that between elegance and vulgarity, meditation and craving. Maehŏn’s intoxication with nihilistic feeling in Kyŏngu might be another manifestation—to borrow Yi’s word—of the “genius of pessimistic meditation” characteristic of Eastern culture.33

    Kyŏngju in “Sunset” exists within the zone of Korea in both a geographical and cultural sense. Yet it is not the place of a pure Korean identity as in the Korean nationalist imagination. It is quite suggestive that for Maehŏn the heart of Kyŏngju is Orŭng or Yŏngji, for these historic places could have provided evidence that Silla was ethnically and culturally complex, and no prototype of a homogeneous national community. As the tombs of the founder of Silla, his wife and the following three kings, Orŭng not only indicates an origin for Silla, but also recalls the controversial relationship between Silla and Japan. The identity of the Silla founder Pak Hyŏkkŏse was a matter of dispute for several reasons, including that the character of his last name could be the same as the Ho in Hogong, Pak Hyŏkkŏse’s chief Japanese vassal. The surmise that his clan might have been Japanese like that of Hogong, or derived from a southern overseas tribe and not from natives on the Korean peninsula was held by a certain section of colonial Korean society.34 As for Yŏngji, the legend attached to its name tells a story of a woman named Asanyŏ who came to meet a stonemason involved in the construction of two pagodas in the precincts of Pulguksa. When she saw there was no shadow of a completed pagoda cast on the lake, she was convinced that there was no hope of being reunited with the stonemason and committed suicide by throwing herself into the water. Part of the legend has been forgotten since it has hitherto been transmitted mainly by Hyŏn Chin-gŏn’s Muyŏngt’ap (A pagoda without a shadow). In Hyŏn’s historical romance the stonemason and Asanyŏ are a married couple from Paekche, but Pulguksa kogŭm yŏktaegi (A chronicle of Pulguksa) from the mid-eighteenth century and other more reliable historical documents say that they were both from Tang China and Asanyŏ was a sister or wife of the stonemason.35 In short, the two places that are most important to the representation of Kyŏngju connect the city not just to Korea, but to a larger zone in which Korea shares definite religious and cultural traditions in common with China and Japan. Needless to say, that zone was generally called the East or Orient. The short-story echoes the Japanese idea that Kyŏngju belongs more to the East than to Korea.

    T’aok, who captivates Maehŏn’s mind on his first day in Kyŏngju, has a symbolically close relationship with the old Eastern city. While she is a student of English literature, a fact which makes it not surprising that she uses words like “nihil,” at the same time she sides with a type of Oriental aesthetics which has an inclination towards notions of nothingness, emptiness and stillness. When Maehŏn picks up a Silla earthen vessel and says that “I think it would be a superb vessel for a still life with some fruit inside,” she replies, “It would be even more still if we saw it as it is with nothing inside.” It is Orŭng, which she herself describes as “nihil,” that she likes the most among the historic remains. The “dreadful feeling” aroused by the tombs, a feeling not unrelated to the horror of death, she rather praises as a charming characteristic of the place. She is the type who allows herself to be immersed in meditation à la Tagore upon hearing the sound of waves, although she walks along a seashore with her short skirt fluttering, caring nothing for the cold weather, just like a youth in full bloom. She may be seen, therefore, as being representative of the Oriental charms of Kyŏngju.

    T’aok attracts Maehŏn’s attention because of her appearance as a beautiful, educated and urbanized woman, but once it is established that they feel the same way about the tombs, she looks increasingly like an embodiment of an animated Orient to him. When she is unable to bear the scorching heat near a riverside and takes off her clothes without reserve to swim, he sees “a fairy jumping out of Orŭng” in her naked body. After realizing that Kyŏngju’s charm is alive and well in her spirit and body, he begins to feel attachment for her, but like his “Oriental sentiment” her Eastern beauty does not allow him to be seized by vulgar desire. In the fall, more than a year after he first met her, he visits the city again and sees Sŏkkuram in her company. The temple gives him a pregnant metaphor for her mysterious character as well as a route to the “ecstasy of art.” When he looks at a carved image of “Sib’il-myŏn Kwanŭm (Bodhisattva with eleven faces)” the idea crosses his mind that she is like a Bodhisattva. He goes on to think that she is a “sublime eternal woman” of the kind illustrated by the Bodhisattva, while at the same time he realizes that she has freed him from evil desire. This change in the impression he has of her may have previously been notified by her name T’aok, which refers to Buddha’s (T’a) stone (ok), that is, a brilliant sign of being an enlightened one(122, 126, 135).

    As might be expected of someone who confesses fondness for the nihilistic atmosphere of Orŭng, T’aok sometimes reveals to Maehŏn that she has been obsessed with thoughts of death. While gazing at the landscape of Yŏngji through the window of a nearby hotel, she thinks of the story of Asanyŏ who had drowned herself there, and after waking from her dreamless sleep in her hotel room, she expresses the feeling that death may be just like that. According to the story, she has lately been faced with circumstances in which it would be rather strange if she did not become absorbed in thoughts of death, for she had lost her mother two years before she met Maehŏn. She had studied in Kyoto until the death of her mother brought her back to Kyŏngju, her parents’ place of residence which she had usually preferred to the old city in Japan. Though this is a guess with not much evidence in the text, her attachment to Kyŏngju might be related to her aesthetic and ethical self-consciousness being heightened and articulated by her confrontation with the transience and mortality of human beings. It is difficult not to feel an element of the secularized form of sasin, or self-annihilation from the fact that she voluntarily brought her career as a member of the educated elite to a halt and had taken it upon herself to manage an antique shop for the benefit of her father and her family.

    In this context, it is noticeable that she lets Maehŏn sleep in a bed that has been warmed by her body before she parts from him, leaving a farewell note in which she tells him about her engagement. The sleep that he is unable to resist even when with her represents the physical weakening he has begun to endure as he approaches the age of fifty and, on a deeper level, his being destined to die, as suggested by T’aok’s remark on the analogy of sleep and death. Thus it does not seem to be a mere trick to attempt a secret leave-taking when she asks him in the middle of the night to go to the room where she had been sleeping alone and lie down in the bed steeped with her body warmth and scent. It can also be understood as an expression of her compassion for him. It is probably because he has intuited she has a compassionate attitude grown out of a nihilistic view of human existence that he compares her with an eleven-faced-Kwanŭm (Avalokiteśvara) and praises her womanhood as being “sublime.”

    As is generally known, an Eleven-Faced-Kwanŭm is a form of Kwanŭm Bodhisattva, one of the Buddhist forms of an ideal human being primarily characterized by compassion for all the creatures of the world. The saint of mercy presents herself in different figures in response to the differences in kŭngi, or the inherent spiritual power of each creature to achieve enlightenment. The Lotus Sutra, probably the most famous text regarding this Bodhisattva, calls such a transformation “pomun sihyŏn” which literally means the self-presence of a Bodhisattva, and divides the forms of her self-presence into thirty-three. The Eleven-Faced-Bodhisattva is called such because she wears eleven different faces, each of which is a response to the good and evil of creatures. The story of “Sunset” suggests that Maehŏn’s relationship to T’aok is that of a creature to a Bodhisattva, which means that the latter helps the former to relieve himself from the pains of his existence. The pain he is suffering is apparently caused by his aging, but also more fundamentally by the law of transience under which he exists. The different ways in which T’aok appears to him—an innocent child and a precocious meditator, a lively virgin and a holy mother—are analogous to the eleven faces of a merciful and affectionate Kwanŭm Bodhisattva.

    It is appropriate, indeed, that Maehŏn uses the term “sung’go” (sublime) to designate the womanhood of both Kwanŭm and T’aok. The Chinese character “sung” (崇) of “sung’go,” along with its different versions 嵩 and 崧, includes the character for mountain (山, san), which in the classical Chinese tradition provides an image for the holy, spiritual, and lofty. The experience of the sublime indicates an uplifting of one’s spirit into such a realm, an experience in which the human being becomes pure and great, beyond its worldly limit. “Sunset” narrates a moment when a sublime, eternal woman appears before Maehŏn and bestows upon him a Dharma rapture, or blissful enlightenment, placing his visit to Sŏkkuram at the climax of its plot. The narrator describes this moment as “a more solemn silence,” as if encountering the limit of language. It could be said that silence represents a state of being overwhelmingly fraught with an “eternal nihil” which is presented as a unique impression given by Kyŏngju. Yanagi’s comment on a “state of non-being embracing all beings” as the aesthetic nature of Sŏkkuram seems to find its reverberation in “Sunset,” a story devoted to an epiphany of Buddhist nihilism.

    28For a more detailed account of Kyŏngju Kojŏk Pojonhoe, see Kim Hyŏn-suk’s previously cited article. It is reported by Okuda Yasushi in his Silla kyūto Keishu shi (p. 86) and by others that the local association was involved in the Korea’s historic remains preservation project undertaken by the government-general and that it was aimed especially at giving support to the Sŏkkuram repair work.  29Yi T’ae-jun (1988), pp. 120–121. All further citations from this text will be noted by a parenthetical reference providing the page number.  30Katō Shōrinjin (1958), p. 151.  31Kim Yong-jun (2001), p. 115.  32Yanagi Muneyoshi (1981e), pp. 100–107  33Yi T’ae-jun, (1941), p. 88. For a full English translation of the text, see Yi T’ae-jun (2009), pp. 57–59.  34One of the grounds on which Japanese during their imperial period put forward a theory that Pak Hyŏkkŏse was from Japan is a passage in the first section of “Silla pon’gi [A record of Silla]” in Samguk sagi [History of the Three Kingdoms] where Pak’s birth tale is narrated: “The Chinhan people call Ho (gourd) Pak, and he was the same size as a gourd, so his last name was settled as Pak” (Kim Pu-sik, 1976, p. 31, 203). This passage is cited in Tonggyŏng chapgi [A compendium of Kyŏngju] edited by Min Chu-myŏn, a seventeenth-century mayor of the city. It seems to have been widely accepted by Japanese colonials that the three founders of Silla, including Pak, had all originated from somewhere to the south of the peninsula. Ōsaka Kintarō was among the main advocates of this hypothesis. See Ōsaka Rokuson [Kintatō] (1934), pp. 28–26.  35For a discussion of Hyŏn Chin-gŏn’s alteration of the Yŏngji tale, see my “Silla ŭi palgyŏn: kŭndae Hang’uk ŭi minjok jŏk sangsang mul ŭi singminji jŏk kiwŏn,” in Silla ūi palgyŏn, edited by Hwang Jongyon (Tongguk taehakkyo ch’ulp’anbu, 2008), pp. 32–34.

    IV. A BODHISATTVA WAY OF LIFE

    After Sŏkkuram was discovered as an artwork the eleven-faced Bodhisattva image came to be as much admired as the primary Buddha. It had a prominent position in Japanese-language books published for the purpose of advertising the historic remains in Kyŏngju. There are three pictures of Sŏkkuram in Silla kyūto Keishū koseki zui, a deluxe picture book edited and published by the Society for the Preservation of Historic Remains in Kyŏngju, for example, and one of them features the Bodhisattva image with a comment that, “It is carved in such an elegant and elaborate way as to tower over others in the grotto.” It is an object of special attention as well in [Insert Romanized Japanese title here] (Pulguksa and Sŏkkuram), published as part of a monumental series of colonial historiography and archaeology books. In a short introduction to a large picture of the image are words of high praise saying that, “with the finest craft and the subtlest carving applied, it alone can speak for Buddhist art.”36 The figure turned out to be of great use for Korean artists whose aspiration it was to create visual images of the Oriental as well as of the Korean. Yi To-yŏng, an artist in the nineteenth-century Korean painting tradition who once served on the selection committee of the Chosŏn Art Exhibition, presented his brush-work devoted to the depiction of the Bodhisattva statue in 1929 to the Ninth Sŏhwa Hyŏphoe (Society of Painters and Calligraphers) Exhibition.37 [Plate 5] It looks impressive even in the poor quality newspaper photograph that is the only remaining evidence of its existence. Yi’s painting successfully evokes the holy mother-like splendor of the object by conferring a high degree of prominence and balance to its linear form. In that respect it can be evaluated as illustrative of the sublime line of Oriental brush painting freed from the thematic conventions of Chinese and Korean literati painting.

    Yet it is a dance by Ch’oe Sŭng-hui that probably became the most famous Korean artwork emulating the Bodhisattva statue. Ch’oe included a dance entitled Bodhisattva in the program she offered in Paris in 1939, a performance that launched her career as a world-famous dancer. As indicated by a poem composed by her husband, the poet An Mak, the dance was an adaptation of some visual features of the image in Sŏkkuram.38 Perhaps Ch’oe initially became aware of the possibilities for a genre of Oriental dance on the occasion of her performances in Paris and some other European cities. She went on to develop a rich repertoire by expanding her range of sources into Japan and China and established the Bodhisattva dance as one of her major performance pieces. In a grand-scale performance she gave in Tokyo in December 1941, whose program consisted of her self-choreographed solo dances, she presented the Bodhisattva dance in several styles with reference to Korean and Japanese visual art.39 [Plate 6]

    It was no accident that Ch’oe made important use of this Buddhist motif in initiating Oriental-styled dance because, as indicated in my earlier discussion of Yanagi Muneyoshi, modern Japanese intellectuals intent on culturally constructing the East on an equal footing with the West often found an equivalent to Christianity in Buddhism. It can be said that an East in opposition to the West, originating from a European way of seeing the world geographically took on its cultural form through its encounter with Buddhism in Japanese scholarship. As the cultural substantialization of the East emerged as an important stage in the process of Japanese self-definition, and as Asianism rose to prominence with a view to strengthening the hegemony of imperial Japan, the idea of an essentially Buddhist East held a powerful appeal. Japanese Buddhist priests who were aware of the strong presence of the Christian West did not hesitate to exalt their religion as a cultural commonality of all Eastern countries that would enable them to build a coalition. A great modernizer of Buddhist thought, D. T. Suzuki, famously said: “If the East is one and there is something that differentiates it from the West, the differentia must be sought in the thought that is embodied in Buddhism. For it is in Buddhist thought and in no other that India, China and Japan representing the East, could be united as one. Each nationality has its own modes of adapting the thought to its environmental needs, but when the East as unity is made to confront the West, Buddhism supplies the bond.”40

    The unification of the East had been, in practice, an important agenda in Japanese politics and culture since the outbreak of the second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Koreans as well as Japanese were drawn to a vision of the East Asian community that would replace what they perceived to be a defunct European individualism and liberalism. Combined with imperial Japan’s interest in hegemony over the Asian region, Asianist propaganda envisioned an East that would overcome Western modernity and initiate a new beginning in world history. An image of this new East can be glimpsed in Yi T’ae-jun’s character T’aok. When she parts from Maehŏn a year after first meeting him—significantly in Haeundae this time and not in Kyŏngju—she reveals that the Bodhisattva type is not all that defines her.41 Having taken a break from her English studies at Dōshisha University in Kyoto, she informs Maehŏn that she has become engaged to someone whose current residence is in Tokyo, and asks him to wish them a happy future. No doubt this moment shows that she is no longer obsessed with thoughts of death and nothingness and has begun to feel hope for her life. Sustained through the nihilism of Kyŏngju her youthfulness brings to mind the new East emerging from within the Japanese empire.

    It was from the sixth to eighth century, during the time of the Sui and Tang dynasties in China, when Suiko and Shomu were on the throne in Japan, and when Silla unified what is now Korea that Buddhism had flourished in East Asia, creating a single cultural sphere. For Yanagi Muneyoshi, Sŏkkuram offers a superior illustration of the religious spirituality of East Asian peoples that found its expression in Buddhist doctrines and practices of the time. In his view, religion was in decline and Buddhism on the verge of disappearance in Korea, but in the grotto the country was “alive as an eternal land of religion.” He chose to describe his own visit not in terms of historiography or archaeology, but as a religious experience. The inner room of Sŏkkuram was a spiritual world to him, and the climax of his aesthetic pleasure coincided with “a strange spiritual moment of shivering.”42 In line with his argument that the beautiful and the true, art and religion are ultimately one, the sublime and the numinous are not disparate. His idea of the ultimate sameness of the experience of the sublime and of transcendence is not particularly Eastern. It is rather a commonplace in the Judeo-Christian and Romantic traditions in the West. The Western notion of the sublime which raises the mind over and beyond its ordinary cognitive operations is inscribed in the German word for sublime, das Erhabene, literally meaning “the elevating.”43 However, the sublime began to be conceptualized as being separate from intimations of transcendence as a result of the triumph of secularism in modern Western culture. Needless to say, the famous aesthetic theories of the sublime of Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant are disassociated from its hierophantic commentaries.

    In this regard, it is noteworthy that Japanese and Korean critics hesitated to resort to secular ways of aesthetic thinking in speaking about Oriental art, and Sŏkkuram in particular. In an essay describing his visit in 1938 to Kyŏngju Kobayashi Hideo mentions that while the Sŏkkuram carvings were beautiful, he could not but be tired of them. The reason he adduces for this rather curious reaction is that he does not have a “Buddha” in him such as those carving artists from the far past undoubtedly had. He could not allow himself to be pleasantly absorbed in the beauty of the sculptures because he had no religious belief. He wrote that on his way back from the grotto that the word “aesthetic” came into his mind all of a sudden, as if he had been groping for a way in the darkness, and this in turn had left him with even more unpleasant thoughts.44 A similar reservation regarding secular aesthetics is seen in Yi T’ae-jun’s “Sunset.” Just like Kobayashi, Maehŏn speaks of feeling tired when surrounded by the carved Buddhist images, and upon looking at the Bodhisattva figure, he exclaims that “no matter how pretty she is, a woman cannot reveal herself as a sublime beauty until she acquires something religious or philosophical.” He then eulogizes T’aok, who, he believes, has saved him from the evil power of carnal desire, by comparing her with the eleven-faced Bodhisattva image. It is possible to infer from what he says that “sublime beauty” has something to do with the purity and loftiness of a spiritual aura and that his commitment to Oriental aesthetic includes some kind of spiritualism.

    But if we think of the Oriental sublime only in terms of aesthetics, then we cannot understand it correctly. Around the year 1942 when Yi T’ae-jun’s short-story was published, Buddhist artworks were not the only examples of the sublime, which also included the war Japan had just started against the United States of America. As mobilization for total war took a stronger hold on everyday life in Korean society after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, the self-awareness and self-discipline of individuals as subjects of the Japanese empire became considered right not only in an ethical but also an aesthetic sense. Conduct dedicated to the ideal of so-called myŏlsa-ponggong (sacrificing one’s self and serving others) was regarded as being as sublime as the myriad manifestations of Buddha. Ch’oe Chae-sŏ, editor of a Japanese-language imperialist propaganda journal Kokumin bungaku (National literature), thought that Korean writers’ ethical sense and aesthetic sensibility should be transformed in the direction of serving the holy cause of the imperial state. Arguing in his proposal for the establishment of a national literature that writers in his day were required to have emergency training to be national subjects, he urges that they recover the “spirit of the classics” characterized by admiration and aspiration for “the great” and “the sublime.” Among the expressions of the spirit which he considers a source of solemn beauty unique to classical works of literature were poems of loyalty and patriotism collected in the Manyōshū (Collection of ten thousand leaves). He cites “nine military gods,” that is, nine members of a “special attacking unit” who lost their lives in the campaign targeted at Pearl Harbor, as examples of ethical and aesthetic heroism for writers, because their whole lives had been committed to the “training by which to seize an aesthetic moment” of the classical spirit.45 Yi’s “Sunset” is far from being a war propaganda narrative. We have reason to suspect, however, that its eulogy of the sublime fits together with the fascist aesthetic. It should not be forgotten, after all, that the story was published in Kokumin bungaku.46

    Even more illuminating is the fact that Buddhism was frequently reformulated as a body of doctrines conducive to the legitimization of the total war system. Traditionally prone to coordinate their practices with the interests of the state in the name of “gokoku Bukkyō” (Buddhism protecting the state), Japanese Buddhist sects hardly faltered in transforming their doctrines and organization into a war machine after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War. This was demonstrated, above all, by the emergence of the notion of “Kōdō Bukkyō” (Imperial-Way Buddhism) in the late 1930s. Premised on the idea that it was only in Japan that Buddhist teaching had developed in the proper manner and that this accomplishment was due to successive emperors who had each believed in and guided Buddhism, Imperial-Way Buddhism argued that the belief in Buddhist teaching and loyalty to the imperial house were not separate and thereby contributed to the mobilization of the people for the purposes of the militarist state. As Imperial-Way Buddhism expanded into the major sects of Japanese Buddhism, glorification of the Showa emperor in Buddhist terms became rampant in their preachings and publications. For them, the Emperor of Japan was the Tenrinjōō (Golden wheel-turning sacred king), an ideal Buddhist monarch, and his war an act of his sublime compassion.47 Most Korean Buddhist sects were involved in the support for the war as well. Forced to unify themselves unprecedentedly into a nation-wide centralized organization under the control of the government-general, they acted in collaboration with the total war system by holding prayer meetings for victory and memorial services for those killed in the war, providing resources for arms and other military supplies, and participating in a variety of mass propagandist operations.48 The Imperial-Way Buddhist movement found its supporters among the leaders of Korean Buddhism.

    Needless to say, Korean Buddhist preachers and scholars were great admirers of Sŏkkuram and, by extension, the culture of Silla in general. But out of them came advocates of Japanese fascism as well as champions of Buddhist art and culture. Kwŏn Sang-no is a case in point. One of a few learned historians of Korean Buddhism, Kwŏn wrote a Korean-language pamphlet on Imperial-Way Buddhism, in which he attempted to charge the Korean Buddhist orders with patriotism modelled on the Nichiren sect, a paragon of Japanese gokoku-Bukkyo, and to offer an Imperial-Way Buddhist account of courage and wisdom for war accomplishments. He declared: “The Imperial-Way and Buddhism, people’s lives and Buddhist teaching are not separable in our empire.” Therefore, “only by applying both the most holy imperial way and the most merciful Buddhism, can all living beings saved and the Buddha land purified.” We must also “materialize the great ideal of hakkōichiu (universal brotherhood) by liberating Asian peoples from the domination of the British empire.” He saw that those officers and soldiers who had devoted themselves to the ideal of Greater East Asia were acquiring their own Buddhahood, which would lead them beyond the ideas of life and death.49 For him, thus, “the Holy War (was) exactly the Bodhisattva Way of Life.” As Japan became desperate to mobilize its natural and human resources for war, the aesthetic of the Oriental sublime was incorporated with a self-congratulating and self-aggrandizing culture of the military. Its lingering attach-ment to the divine and the transcendental turned out to be of great service in producing loyal and fierce defenders of Japanese imperial authority. Under Japan’s total war system the worship of the Oriental sublime was hard to differentiate from the delusion of fascist grandeur.

    36Keishū Kosei Hozonkai (1939), p. 101. Chosŏn Ch’ongdokpu (2004) p. 235. The excellence in artistic technique would not have been the sole reason why the eleven-faced bodhisattva image was selected as an object of special appraisal over the many other carved figures inside the grotto. One of the other reasons seems to have been the fact that the Japanese had a Buddhist tradition and its parallel in plastic art which cherished Bodhisattva worship. It is said that Japan, with its goddess worship developed from the ancient period, brought into existence a unique culture of Bodhisattva worship by unifying the native goddess and Bodhisattvas into one in a process of so-called shinbutsu shūgō (combination of Shinto and Buddhism). Yamaori Tetsuo sees the rise of Bodhisattva worship as a double process of “the embodiment of kami” and “the metamorphosis into a hidden Buddha of hotoke.” (Yamanori Tetsuo, 2001, pp. 189–191) Kang Hŭi-jŏng takes as a reason for the Japanese preference for the bodhisattva image an “imperialist ideology” which tends to use an image of a woman as a metaphoric displacement of a colony (Kang Hŭi-jŏng, 2012, p. 126). But this is no more than a reiteration of a routinized critique of Orientalism. It can be refuted very easily by a reference to the evidence that the Japanese during their imperial period themselves cherished the eleven-faced bodhisattva statues they had inherited from their own past—the fact that such time-honored statues as those enshrined in Jōrinji in Nara and other temples were designated one after another as national treasures or that Watsuji Tetsurō, the author of Koji junrei (Pilgrimages to ancient temples), and other Japanese philosophers and critics often regarded them as a classic expression of the Japanese sprit. In passing, Kang is mistaken in taking Torii Ryūjō as an example of Japanese scholars who emphasized the femininity of the Sŏkkuram bodhisattva image. Torii’s remark cited by her is not about the Boddhisattva, but about the primary Buddha image.  37The picture of Yi To-yŏng’s Sŏkkuram ŭi Kwanŭmsang is found in the Chosŏn ilbo issue of November 1, 1929.  38The first half of An Mak’s poem is: “In the middle of Europe/Korea is in motion./An image carved on the wall of Sŏkkuram/Shines through the barrier of the human mind./As if it were a human being alive/It silently steps out into the light.” The translation is mine and based on the text cited in Chŏng Pyŏng-ho (2004), p. 162.  39See the titles of her dances and the summaries of their themes cited by Chŏng Pyŏng-ho (2004, p. 225). Ch’oe’s use of the Sŏkkuram bodhisattva image has been previously commented on by Kim Hyŏn-suk in her article on the grotto as represented in modern Korean visual culture. See Hwang Jongyon (2008), pp. 110–112.  40D. T. Suzuki (1953), p. 378.  41Haeundae was developed as a resort place when hot springs were discovered by Japanese who moved there after the harbor of Pusan was opened to them in 1876. The development of the hot springs is said to have been started by a Japanese doctor Wada Nomo. Though it was known for its beautiful scenery prior to its colonization, Haeundae became as it is today, initially as a new commercial area created by Japanese colonials, and in that sense is quite different from such historic places as Kyŏngju.  42Yanagi Muneyoshi (1981d), p. 53, 59.  43Andrew Chignell and Matthew C. Halteman (2012), pp. 183–202  44Kobayashi Hideo (1978), pp. 51–52.  45Ch’oe Chae-sŏ (2006), p. 130.  46Janet Poole (2014) offers another way of reading “Sunset,” focused on its aesthetic invocation of the Orient and the assumption of a Japanese imperial subjectivity.  47For more information on the Imperial-Way Buddhism, see Brian Daizen Victoria (2006), pp. 79–94  48Kim Sun-sŏk (2003), pp. 185–218.  49Kwŏn Sang-no (1943), pp. 60–63, 80–84. See Kim Yŏng-jin (2010), which offers a critical reading of some texts from a Korean version of Imperial-Way Buddhism, including Kwŏn Sang-no’s newspaper article ‘Taedong’a chŏnjaeng kwa Pulgyo” [The Greater East Asia war and Buddhism] (1942).

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