Words of Wisdom: Buddhist Calligraphy from Japan

April 1, 2023 – February 25, 2024

Segment of a sutra from Mount Koya, Japan, late Heian period, 12th century, gold on indigo-dyed paper, Gift of Sylvan Barnet and William Burto, Freer Gallery of Art, F2014.6.17a-d

Freer Gallery of Art
Jefferson Drive and 12th St., SW
Washington, DC

First Floor, Gallery 7

See on Map Floor Plan

Historical records suggest that writing began in Japan around the year 552 when political and religious emissaries from the Korean kingdom of Baekje arrived, equipped with handheld Buddhist sculptures and sutras in literary Chinese. Prior to that moment, Japan had not yet developed a written language of its own, and the introduction of writing changed the country’s history forever.

The arrival of both Buddhism and the written language changed the religious system of Japan; introduced a new consciousness for expressing personal thoughts, larger concepts, and political power; and charted a new course for the country’s intellectual, linguistic, political, and artistic domains. The cultural shift from an oral tradition to a written one was accompanied by a rich fabric of artistic, architectural, and literary expression. This exhibition brings together different types of script presented in various formats to illustrate a journey of objects, knowledge, and cultural identity.