I heard that Unkei was carving Niō guardians at the main gate of Gokokuji, so while out on my walk I stopped to see. A large crowd had already gathered before me, with many voicing opinions on the work.
About ten meters in front of the gate stood a large red pine. Its trunk was at an angle, and it screened the tiling of the gate's roof before extending further into the clear sky. The greenery of the pine and the red lacquer of the gate complemented each other magnificently. On top of that, the positioning of the pine was superb. It cut across the left edge of the gate obliquely, neither blocking nor offending one's view. Further up it broadened out and spread above the roof in a manner that seemed ancient, like something from the Kamakura period.
All of us watching, though, were Meiji era folk like myself. Rickshaw drivers were present in great numbers. No doubt they were idling time between fares.
"Immense piece of work," someone remarked.
"Much greater effort than carving a human," another added.
Among all this a man said, "Is it really a Niō? I didn't know they still carved Niō. I guess it is. I thought Niō were only from times long past."
Another man joined in. "He looks so powerful. No other word for it. As far back as you go, there's no one stronger than a Niō. He could even overpower Prince Yamato-Takeru." This man tucked his skirt up in the back and wore no hat. He was clearly a simpleton.
Unkei wielded his mallet and chisel, oblivious to the chatter of the onlookers. He never even glanced back. Perched up high, he toiled away to carve out the Niō's features.
On Unkei's head was a small piece of black-lacquered headgear. He wore a suō or some such garment, and its large sleeves were fastened behind his back. His attire, all-in-all, was entirely outdated. He seemed fully incongruous with the throngs that milled about below him. I wondered myself how Unkei could still be living in this day and age. Thinking it was indeed curious, I remained there watching, transfixed.