This unusual set consists of 540 beads and belongs to the Japanese Shingon School of Buddhism. Six large separator beads have hollowed out interiors and glass windows with bronze frames and contain small wooden sculptures of deities identified by inscriptions. As a rule Shingon strands of prayer beads are usually divided into halves, each with its own larger bead called an oyadama, equivalent to a guru bead in the Tibetan tradition. During a recitation the practitioner would proceed from one oyadama to the next, at which point the direction would be reversed and the counting carried back to the oyadama from which he or she began. For large communal practices, in which the recitations would be extensive, one set of beads extended ten times would have 1080 beads, or the half of that number resulting in 540. This lengthened set has two oyadama beads with four medium-size beads called shitenno as separators. This strand may have been held by a group of participants seated in a circle who would recite the prayers and move the beads along from one to another, bead after bead. thus rotating the entire string.
56Wood Prayer Beads with Six Beads Containing Sculptures of Kobo Daishi, Dainichi Nyorai, Kannon, Fyodo Myoo, Yakushi, and Amida
Japan; 19th century
Wood, glass, and brass
Collection of Anne Breckenridge Dorsey