This silk brocrade triangular cloth is meant to hang from a shelf in a butsudan, or household Buddhist altar. The altar cloth is embroidered with gold, black, and red thread on an ivory backing in a dragon motif.
A butsudan (literally "Buddhist altar") is a shrine found in temples and in the homes of Japanese Buddhist families. Typically a wooden cabinet, a butsudan holds a range of religious objects, such as a gohonzon (icon), candlesticks, incense burners, rice, and ihai (memorial tablets for deceased relatives). The butsudan is the center of Buddhist faith in the home.
Buddhism is a religion originating in India, based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha. Buddha, meaning "the awakened one," teaches that to end human suffering one must eliminate desire; the end of suffering is an escape from the cycle of reincarnation and the attainment of nirvana. Buddhism arrived in Japan by way of Korea in the 6th century CE, and went on to be a major cultural influence in the development of Japan. Because Buddhism is polytheistic (and even at times considered atheistic), it has been able to coexist with Shintoism, the indigenous and polytheistic religion of Japan. There are many sects and schools within Buddhism globally today; in Japan, the most popular branches include Pure Land Buddhism, Nichiren Buddhism, Shingon Buddhism, and Zen Buddhism.