Media = Art + Message #2 – Todai-ji Temple’s treasures as evidence of ancient cultural cross-pollination in Nara: Toronto photo exhibition starts.

Road of Light and Hope: National Treasures of Todai-ji Temple, Nara

Photographs by Miro Ito

The photo exhibition “Road of Light and Hope: National Treasures of Todai-ji Temple, Nara” opened 15th March at the Japan Foundation Toronto where it will be on display until 28th June 2017. This exhibition collects representative photographic images of artifacts of the Todai-ji —collected throughout its eventful 1300 year history— especially those that are evidence of cultural cross-pollination between east and west.

This evidence can be seen from two perspectives:

One is against the background of the construction of the Todai-ji’s Great Buddha (Vairocana) that symbolizes all the interconnectedness. The other is the cosmopolitanism of the Tenpyo era (729-749) sculptures with their traces of Hellenistic influences —conveyed to Japan via the Silk Road— evident in their features.

With the special permission and cooperation of Todai-ji Temple, and the kind offices of Japan Camera Industry Institute (JCII), Media Art League and the Japan Foundation Toronto are co-presenting this exhibition, comprising 41 photographic hanging scrolls of national treasures and important cultural assets, and 30 framed photographs. Since 2004, I have been photographically documenting these cultural testaments seeking to build bridges between east and west, adopting the ideals that I have learned from the history of the Todai-ji and its founder, Emperor Shomu.


Light of reconstruction and hope

About thirteen centuries ago during the Nara era, the great Vairocana Buddha statue of Todaiji Temple was erected at a time that frequently saw unprecedented natural disasters like huge earthquakes, droughts, famines and epidemics. Some 4.5 million citizens came together to help fund this undertaking. Under the slogan, “every single blade of straw or handful of soil helps”, Emperor Shomu called for everyone from all corners of the land to contribute to the best of their ability. Tens of thousands of people provided their labour enabling the huge statue to be completed in the year 752. 

The project provided encouragement, stability and employment to the people at a time when they were disheartened and burdened by repeated heavy disasters.

From its completion to modern times, the giant Buddha statue faced numerous earthquakes and wars during which it was twice destroyed. Each time, the citizens performed miraculous reconstruction work. Consequently, the giant Buddha has become a powerful symbol of Japan’s hope and resilience.

Concurrently, it is also a symbol of solidarity and interdependence in keeping with the Hua-yen Buddhist tenet that governs the universe: “all is one and one is all”.

In fact, while the traditions embraced by the Todai-ji are considered by many to be the quintessence of the Japanese psyche, I am endeavouring to share and convey these, through my photographs, across borders and cultures.


The road to world peace goes ever on…

Now, in March 2017, it has been six years since Japan’s triple disaster (earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear reactor catastrophe), yet ever more mega-disasters as well as regional conflicts and religious strife appear to be threatening the world order.  Against this background, it is ever more important for us to seek to restore a semblance of peace by genuinely attempting to empathize and share with the growing multitudes of disadvantaged and vulnerable people around the globe.

It is thus a great honour and pleasure for me to send my humble appeal for solidarity among all living beings to the people of Canada, in the spirit of the emperor Shomu, who prayed that all flora and fauna would prosper with the completion of Japan’s first great Buddha statue.

The world traveling exhibition “Road of Light and Hope: The Eurasian Trail of Wisdom (Σοφια) — between East and West—“ began at the United Nations HQ in New York last May, and was followed up by exhibitions at the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan in Tashkent and at the Council of Europe HQ as well as le Lieu d’ Europe in Strasbourg in 2016 has now reached Canada, where it will be presented in Toronto at the gallery of the Japan Foundation (albeit, with a different sub-title: “National Treasures of Todai-ji Temple, Nara”) from 15th March to 28th June.

On the 26th of May, I will go to Toronto to hold a lecture accompanied by a screening of short movies on the topic. 

For details of the exhibition, please refer to the Japan Foundation [Toronto] website: 


20th March 2017

Miro Ito

artist/author, producer (art & culture)

Media Art League



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