This miniature religious shrine contains a statue of the Buddha, or possibly of the Bodhisattva Manjusri. The Buddha statue is made of a dark brown, carved wood. He is depicted seated on a lion, which in turn crouches upon a rock. The Buddha is seated in the "demon-subduing" posture, with his right foot raised above the left. The right foot indicates a Buddha or the Buddha nature in general; when it is on top, the Buddha nature suppresses the "demons" that are our desires, which lead to suffering. Smooth, draped robes are carved over his body. The Buddha has his characteristically long earlobes and calm expression.
The Bodhisattva Monju (or Manjusri in Sanskrit) is often depicted riding on or sitting atop a lion. In general Buddhist thought, the lion is the king of animals, and Buddhist legend often describes a lion attending to or serving an enlightened being. The basic symbolism is that these beings are lions among humans and that the wisdom of their teachings is (or should be) heard far and wide, just like the roar of a lion. Monju is also, however, usually depicted with a flaming sword in his right hand (to symbolize the wisdom that cuts through ignorance) and a sutra in his left hand. It is possible that this sculpture once had other attributes that have broken off, but it may also simply represent a Buddha seated on a lion.
The shrine itself is made of a polished wood (possibly rosewood), with a hinged double-door (one hinge broken) and a gilded interior. The Buddha carving sits on a smaller wood platform within the shrine, with a gold curtain on top. The exterior of the shrine is decorated with carved metal mounts etched with floral designs.
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.
A bodhisattva is a religious figure from Buddhism. Bodhisattvas, considered to be enlightened beings, are motivated by compassion to help all other sentient beings attain enlightenment. Bodhisattvas are popular figures, particularly within Buddhist art. In Japan, the bodhisattvas Kannon (Avalokitesvara), Jizo (Ksitigarbha), Monju (Manjusri), Fugen (Samantabhadra), and Seishi (Mahasthamaprapta) are most commonly revered.