Copied Sutras of Japan

Early Japanese copied sutras, like those from Goryeo, frequently took the form of gold and silver characters copied on the indigo-dyed paper, with transformation scenes also painted in silver or gold. However, in the Kamakura period 1185–1333, Japanese-copied scriptures with unique characteristics began to appear. Gold and silver foil fragments were scattered on the paper and characters were written in black ink on white paper.


The Brahmajala Sūtra, Scroll 1  (梵網經上卷)

Heian period, 9th century, paper, 27.5 x 1062.5cm. Tokyo National Museum, Japan Important Cultural Property no. 1842. ⓒColbase (https://colbase.nich.go.jp/)


This is one of the earliest copied sutras produced in Japan. The bird drawn on the cover page is very striking.

Saddharmapundarika Sūtra (The Lotus Sutra), volume 5 (妙法蓮華經卷第五)

Heian period, 9th century, paper, 26 x 930cm. Tokyo National Museum, Japan. ⓒColbase(https://colbase.nich.go.jp/)


This sutra is transcribed with gold characters written on indigo-dyed paper. A transformation scene is drawn on the cover, conveying the content of the sutra.

Golden Light Sūtra (Eyeless Sūtra), volume 16 (金光明經卷第十六 (目無經))

Kamakura period, 12th century, paper, 26.0 x 394.8cm. Tokyo National Museum, Japan, Important Cultural Property no.52. ⓒColbase(https://colbase.nich.go.jp/)


This sutra was transcribed black ink on white paper. It is also known as the “Eyeless Sutra” because figures without eyes or noses appear in underdrawings beneath the sutra text.