The Hyakumantō Darani (百万塔陀羅尼), or the "One Million Pagodas and Dharani Prayers", is a famous large-scale commission of woodblock printing, the earliest recorded use of woodblock printing in Japan, though probably not the first. As of 2005, this woodblock printed paper scroll is the world's oldest verifiable printed matter.
Woodblock-printed books from Chinese Buddhist temples were seen in Japan as early as the 8th century. In 764, the Empress Shōtoku commissioned one million small wooden pagodas (Hyakumantō (百万塔)), each containing a small woodblock printed paper scroll (typically 6 x 45 cm) printed with a Buddhist text, the Vimalasuddhaprabhasa mahadharani sutra (Mukujōkō daidarani kyō (無垢淨光大陀羅尼經)). These were distributed to temples around the country as thanksgiving for the suppression of the Emi Rebellion of 764. These are the earliest examples of woodblock printing known, or documented, from Japan. Several examples survive.
The printing was completed around 770 and cost such a colossal amount of money that printing technology did not become widespread and the production and distribution of books continued to rely heavily on hand-copying manuscripts.
- Yiengpruksawan, Mimi Hall (1987). One millionth of a Buddha: the Hyakumanto Dharani in the Scheide Library[permanent dead link], Princeton University Library Chronicle 48 : 224-38
- McBride, Richard D. II (2011). Practical Buddhist Thaumaturgy: The "Great Dhāraṇī on Immaculately Pure Light" in Medieval Sinitic Buddhism, Journal of Korean Religions 2 (1), 33-73
- The First Printed Text in the World, Standing Tall and Isolated in Eighth-century Japan: Hyakumanto Darani by Robert G. Sewell
- Example from the Schøyen Collection
- (in Japanese) Digital Exhibition of National Diet Library
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