A seventh-century wall painting of a white tiger, removed from the Kitora Tomb in Asuka,
The image called "Byakko," or white tiger, was found on the west wall of the tomb in 1983. Seeing this realistic image of one of the four guardian deities from up close is a powerfully moving experience. One feels as if this image from 1,300 years ago has some important message that transcends the times. This is the first time one of the Kitora paintings--which are as historically important as the famous murals found in the nearby Takamatsuzuka Tomb--has been opened to public. Each day, about 3,000 people throng the
This exhibition reflects bitter lessons learned from the preservation debacle of the Takamatsuzuka Tomb. Those murals, located just 1 kilometer north of the Kitora site, were discovered in 1972. The Cultural Affairs Agency decided to preserve the priceless works inside the tomb without putting them on public exhibition. Even though its priority was on preserving the murals, the paintings deteriorated badly. In the ensuing years, experts discovered mold was "eating" the colors. Other damage was also discovered, provoking strong criticism about the agency's "secretive" approach to the task.
The murals in the Kitora Tomb contain "Suzaku," a red bird denoting south. It is one of the four Taoist deities that was not included in the Takamatsuzuka paintings. Since mold was eating the plaster on which the Kitora images were painted, it was decided to remove these national cultural treasures. Of the four paintings representing deities, "Byakko," "Seiryu" (blue dragon denoting east) and "Genbu" (black tortoise and snake denoting north) have also been removed. Suzaku is next. Every effort has been made to avoid a replay of the disaster at the Takamatsuzuka Tomb.
The Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties says cultural assets should be opened to public viewing as much as possible. Exhibiting the white tiger, even while the preservation project is still going on, is clearly in line with the law's spirit. The government plans to preserve the Kitora paintings in the
The tomb dates to around 700. The paintings were clearly influenced by styles of the Korean state of Kokuryo and
Cultural assets exist for us to learn from history so we can apply those lessons to present-day circumstances. The mural of the white tiger gives us a glimpse of ancient
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 19(IHT/Asahi: May 20,2006)
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