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Kasuga Shinroku Zushi (Kasuga Divine Deer Miniature Shrine)


Kasuga Shinroku Zushi (Kasuga Divine Deer Miniature Shrine)

Momoyama period (16-17th century)
Private collection
H. 140mm W. 85mm
Hard wood box

This small zushi or miniature shrine is fitted with an itae (painting on wood) of the Kasuga Deer, a divine servant of the Kasuga God. I know of no other zushi like this one. However, the piece shares similarities with the Miniature Shrine with the Kasuga Mandala for Buddhist Relics held by the Tokyo National Museum and the Kasuga Zushi in the Fujita Museum in Osaka. The itae of the Kasuga Dear is a simplified shari zushi or reliquary shrine. As such, it seems reasonable to see the piece as a relic demonstrating the syncretic nature of Shinto and Buddhism, specifically the origin of Kasuga Myojin being Shaka Nyorai.


The divine deer on the itae is depicted in minute detail. Each hair is delicately rendered and despite its size, the itae is reminiscent of old deer mandala illustrations. The painting is in good condition with almost no flaking. The zushi, which is decorated using a process where gold powder was sprinkled over wet lacquer, is fitted with carefully crafted metal fittings and dramatic gradations. It is truly an elegant piece of craftsmanship.


Although the piece is from the early modern era, relics that are representative of Kasuga beliefs are rare. It is unclear when we might encounter such a work again. If you appreciate Shinto art, you won’t want to miss this chance.

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