Today, a lay person can usually see or feel the difference in quality between his work and that of his contemporaries and successors. There was something he was able to instill in his craft that others could never quite duplicate.
Through modern science we’ve come to understand some of the techniques that made Unkei able to succeed in filling us with a sense of wonder.
Unkei understood perspective. He calculated the statue’s proportions from the vantage point of how the work would be gazed upon. He created a dramatic sense of scale as well allowing size to overshadow the viewer who was compelled to feel a little less significant in the company of these massive carvings.
Unkei took inspiration from the many deities found within the Buddhist pantheon. Adding to the sense of mystery is the very real fact that the real items are never displayed. The originals remain hidden away. This concept is also found in martial training where hidden transmissions exist but are never made public as with the esoteric practices of Mikkyo. To this day famous temples such as Zenkoji only open a display of the originals once every seven years. This opening called “Go Kaicho” may also display replicas of originals that are never open to public display.
Unkei’s works were always said to have possessed hearts (Tamashii) of their own. It is one thing to suspect a hidden storage space deep within the recesses of the statue and quite another to destroy a work of art to find out. We all understand the saying that for our work to be truly meaningful we have to put our hearts into the effort. X-Ray’s revealed that Unkei not only believed this but that he placed a physical heart in the form of a crystal into his work. From conception he designed a concealed location in which to add heart as the photo above depicts. Sometimes script such as sutras would be deposited secretly within the work of art always to remain hidden.