soui 僧位
KEY WORD : art history / paintings
A system of rank or title given by the imperial court to men and women in a Buddhist order who were also eminent scholars. From the early introduction of Buddhism to Japan, the Japanese court seems to have copied the Chinese system of rank and entitlement. After the collapse of the centralized ritsuryou 律令 system in the Heian period, rankings were further divided, with family background and position playing an important role. From 864, monks of the highest rank were given the title of (in descending order) houin 法印 (seal of the law), hougen 法眼 (eye of the law), and hokkyou 法橋 (bridge of the law). These titles corresponded with soujou 僧正, souzu 僧都, and risshi 律師 in the general system of ranks for Buddhist monks soukan 僧官. From around 11c the court gave these titles to master Buddhist sculptors *busshi 仏師, and later to Buddhist painters *ebusshi 絵仏師. It is believed that the sculptor Jouchou 定朝 (?-1057, see *Jouchouyou 定朝様) was the first artist who was given the title of hokkyou (in 1022). By 15c many men of letters, poets, warriors, Confucian scholars, doctors, as well as professional painters of layman status, were also awarded the honorifics. The system was officially abolished in 1873.


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