Finial of Buddhist Priest's Staff
This finial is from a special type of staff used by Buddhist monks and ascetics. The top of each staff is adorned with a circular or heart-shaped metal finial which has a hollow central fitting into which a wooden or metal shaft is inserted. Multiple metal rings are attached to the finial, so that when the staff strikes the ground, the rings knock against the finial and shaft, creating a jangling sound. A monk or ascetic traveling through mountains and fields would make this noise to chase away wild animals and insects and thus avoid unnecessary killing. Short-shafted staffs are also shaken to produce sounds in Buddhist rituals. Materials for finials are chosen for their durability and ability to produce a pleasant timbre when shaken. As a result, they are most commonly made of bronze and occasionally iron. These staffs have been used in Japan since ancient times with surviving examples from the 8th century. Monks and pilgrims can still be seen today rattling their staffs as they walk.
This finial is made of bronze, as are the six rings attached to it. The hoop is a slightly elongated oval which branches and curls inward. The tips of both branches are shaped like birds’ heads. The hoop and shaft are crowned by stupas formed of layered discs. These shapes and motifs were commonly featured on monks’ staffs during the 8th century.
This finial was excavated on Mount Nachi in southern Wakayama Prefecture, along with numerous other artifacts, including sutra cases, Buddhist sculptures, ritual tools, bronze mirrors, and copper coins. These Buddhist treasures were likely buried in the earth to preserve them for future generations.