Detail of Buddhist Altar Cloth, 18th century, Japan.An embroidered silk uchishiki featuring the monk Bukan riding a tiger through the waves. Bukan was an eccentric six-foot-tall Zen Buddhist monk of the 7th century who reportedly when asked about philosophy or Buddhism, would mutter, “whatever”. The tiger was not native to Japan. It was introduced at the same time as the Buddhist religion, from India and China. It came to symbolize strength. The Japanese believe it to be of divine origin and to have descended to earth from the constellation of the Great Bear. It thus occupies a supernatural place in Japanese mythology, like the phoenix and dragon, which stands for the living vitality of nature. The ability to tame the tiger represents the power of his knowledge. Bukan riding and being in full control of his tiger signifies a human being in full control of its passions and emotions.