In 1908 Natsume Sōseki,1 perhaps the greatest of modern Japanese writers, published an eerie fantasy called Yume jūya (trans. Ten Nights of Dream (1974)) consisting of ten short visionary stories purporting to be dreams. In the haunting “Dream of the Sixth Night” the dreaming “I” watches absorbedly as Unkei, a master sculptor from the thirteenth century, carves immense “guardian gods” on the gate of a Tokyo temple. Inspired by Unkei’s brilliance, the protagonist returns home to try to carve gods out of the wooden logs in his garden. His attempt is a failure. As he relates it:

I chose the largest log and began to carve with great spirit. But unfortunately, I found no god within it…. I dug through every log in the woodpile, one after another, but nary a one contained a guardian god. And finally it dawned on me that guardian gods were not, after all, buried in trees of this present age [Meiji period in the original]; and thus I came to understand why Unkei is living to this day.