A commission sponsored by the meiji government and headed by Okakura Tenshin (Kakuzō), Kanō Tessai, and Ernest F. Fenollosa traveled to Nara Prefecture in 1884 to catalog the important artifacts in temples and shrines. Fenollosa's later description of an event of this trip, which is often presented to show how he with the assistance of Okakura “saved” Japanese art, brings out the major argument of my article: the role of fine art in the formulation of belief in the nation. Fenollosa describes his “discovery” of the Guze Kannon (Goddess of Mercy), a seventh-century gilt-wood sculpture, at the Hōryūji temple:
I had credentials from the central government which enabled me to requisition the opening of godowns and shrines. The central space of the octagonal Yumedono was occupied by a great closed shrine, which ascended like a pillar towards the apex. The priests of the Horiuji confessed that tradition ascribed the contents of the shrine to Corean work of the days of Suiko, but that it had not been opened for more than two hundred years.