The Story of Shakkyō (The Stone Bridge)


We recently unrolled a large, Japanese embroidery for the first time in many years. At the top of the ten-foot tapestry is a white mountain that might refer to Tendaisan, the holy mountain of the Tientai sect of Buddhism.

According to Carter Horsley, “The Mountain was a favorite pilgrimage site for generations of Chinese and Japanese monks and literary men, who extolled its beauty in a number of memorable accounts. One of the most impressive sights on the mountain was an extraordinary natural stone bridge, which is described in Chinese literature as rising to a height of eighteen thousand feet, its curve likened to the arc of a rainbow or the back of a giant turtle. Watered by the mist rising from nearby falls, its stone surface was covered with a slippery layer of ancient moss.”


This site is also found in the Japanese No play, Shakkyô (The Stone Bridge), by Kanze Motokiyo (1343-1443). The play tells the story of a wealthy Japanese businessman who renounces his life and becomes a priest. He makes a pilgrimage to Tendaisan and the grave of Monju Bosatsu, who is usually seen with an animal known as Shishi, similar to a lion.

The embroidery has many of these Shishi figures, climbing and tumbling down the design. According to one legend, the lioness would take her cubs to the Shakkyô and only the ones who were capable of climbing to the top would be nurtured by the mother.