History of The Shosoin

The Shosoin Repository is located within the grounds of the temple Todaiji in the city of Nara, and was built in the Nara period, eighth century AD. The term Shosoin refers to this particular repository today, but historically referred to the area where a group of storehouses was established. During the Nara and Heian periods, government offices and major Buddhism temples generally had their own storehouse – shoso for storing important materials. Over periods, the majority of them had disappeared, and only the one at the Todaiji has survived to date.

The Shosoin Repository
The Shosoin Repository

Around the middle of the eighth century, the Emperor Shōmu who had governed the country at that time was deceased. On the twenty-first days of sixth month of Tenpyō Shōhō 8 (756), after 49 days since his demise, his wife, the Empress Kōmyō offered the Great Buddha of Todaiji over six hundreds of those objects that he had been fond of during his lifetime along with sixty kinds of medicines. The empress repeated her offerings to the Buddha for five times. These offerings resulted in being kept in the Shoso of the temple, and had been preserved there over 1200 years. In addition to them, the repository had housed Buddhism implements used for important ceremonies at the temple such as the Consecration Ceremony of the Great Buddha in Tenpyō Shōhō 4 (752). In Tenryaku 4 (950), other valuable objects that had been kept in a storehouse of Kensakuin, a sub-temple of the Todaiji, were also relocated to the Shoso. All of these artifacts described above constitute what is presently known as the Shosoin Treasures.

The Shosoin Repository had been maintained by the Todaiji temple under supervision of the Imperial court over a thousand years. However, at the beginning of the Meiji period, the jurisdiction over the repository and treasures was transferred to the government, considering their significance as a heritage. Since 1884, the Imperial Household Ministry (currently Imperial Household Agency) has been responsible for their care and long-term preservation.