Myoren and the stories of flying rice bowls and granaries


The legends of Mt. Shigi are depicted in the Shigisan engi emaki, a set of three-picture scrolls, preserved at the Chogo Sonshiji Temple , Mt. Shigi, Nara Prefecture. The scrolls are dated to around 1156-80.

The Mount Shigei scrolls illustrate three miracles associated with a Buddhist monk named Myoren and his mountaintop temple on Mount Shigi. Myoren was drawn to Mt. Shigi by a Buddhist statue, where he then built a shrine. He would eat whatever he could find himself, taking upon himself the task of praying for the statue. During the winter, he was visited by his long-lost rice bowl, which brought him rice every day. The rice bowl would fly down to the storehouse of a rich man (or rich farmer) Yamazaki, who had stingily refused to share his bounty with the monks, scoop out a bowlful of rice and then return to the monk. One day, the stingy rich man traps the bowl as it was scooping out rice, only to thwarted by the bowl carrying the entire storage house to the shrine. In exchange for sharing his grain with the monks, the monk had the rice bowl return all of the farmer’s rice to where it came from. Read the story of the Flying Rice Bowl /Granary here.

In Gardner’s Art through the Ages: Non-Western Perspectives, Fred Kleiner writes,

“The first relates the story of the flying storehouse and depicts Myoren’s begging bowl lifting the rice-filled granary of a greedy farmer and carrying it off to the monk’s hut in the mountains. The painter depicted the astonished landowner, his attendants, and several onlookers in various poses–some grimacing, others gesticulating wildly and scurrying about in frantic amazement. In striking contrast to the Genji scroll figures, the artist exaggerated each feature of the painted figures, but still depicted the actors and architecture seen from above.


[Further notes: The scrolls represented a new technique depicting pictures in continuous whole, since up till now, pictures were in separate panel form. This was to become the norm for later e-maki. The second scroll tells a story of Myoren healing the Emperor; The third scroll tells the story of Myoren’s sister who in her old age decided to find and re-united with him, her brother.]


This legend is a variation of Asian Buddhist jataka tales of magical rice bowls or multiplying rice (see One Grain of Rice) or divining rice bowls such as that found in Life of Buddha: The Golden Rice Bowl


For further analysis, read Karen L. Brock’s The Making and Remaking of “Miraculous Origins of Mt. Shigi“, Archives of Asian Art, Vol. 45 (1992), pp. 42-71


Sources and References:

The Flying Rice Bowl, Itaya

Wikipedia’s entry “Mt Shigi

Gardner’s Art through the Ages: Non-Western Perspectives, by Fred Kleiner p. 100

The Japanese Experience: A Short History of Japan by William G. Beasley  p. 76

Jataka tales for Young and Old

One Grain of Rice by Demi

Imaging Japanese History (see handout p 5 only)

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