As the publishing industry exploded in the Edo period, Buddhist material culture became accessible to a more diverse audience and the Japanese iconographic manual titled Butsuzō zui (Collection of Buddhist image illustrations) became the most widely distributed source for information on Buddhist and Shinto deities. Butsuzō zui was originally published in three volumes in 1690 and then it was expanded and republished in 1783 in five volumes with illustrations by Ki no Hidenobu of the Tosa School. Every few decades up into the early twentieth century, new publishers continued to rerelease the expanded version.
Butsuzō zui categorized and organized deities by framing their printed illustrations in black outline into grids. The particular focus of this paper is to consider the role of Butsuzō zui in the distribution of the representations of Kannon, who has the most frequent presence among all the deities in the work. The first group of Kannon is the set of Six Kannon followed by the Thirty-three Kannon, a group that gained popularity in Japan in the seventeenth century at the time Butsuzō zui emerged. Many forms of Kannon in this group are not based in scripture, but on popular stories about the deity originating from China. In addition, the book illustrates four Kannon icons from the Saikoku Thirty-three Kannon pilgrimage route. Pilgrim participation on the Saikoku route was also accelerating at this time. How did Butsuzō zui’s distribution affect the popularity as well as codification of such complex sets of Kannon images?
Philipp Franz von Siebold published the first foreign-language version of the work in 1832. Foreigners eager to learn about the mysterious religions in Japan greeted Butsuzō zui with enthusiasm and subsequently annotated-foreign editions in German, French and English were published. As Butsuzō zui spread, the various representations of Kannon depicted within were introduced to new audiences throughout the world.