Historically, two major religions – Shinto and Buddhism – have existed
harmoniously in Japan, playing complementary roles in its culture and
giving rise to a rich variety of art forms.
For centuries, the Japanese have practiced rituals to honor and please the kami, the higher beings believed to inhabit the natural world and influence
the weather, harvest, and our general well being. This religion, later named Shinto, originally had
no imagery or art, but, under the influence of
Buddhism, sculptures and paintings of kami
were created (left), and Shinto shrines became more elaborate. Among
the most intriguing Shinto art objects are the votive plaques known as ema, inscribed
with prayers and then hung at shrines for the kami
to read (below). When Buddhism arrived in Japan in the 6th century AD,
it was already 1,000 years old and possessed a complex iconography and
wide array of art forms. Soon, Japanese artists were sculpting elegant
bronze and wooden Buddhist deities (left), printing Buddhist texts and
images with woodblocks, and painting Buddhist scenes on silk as
hangings to be worshipped in temples and homes.
This exhibition provides an introduction to these religions through
some of the finest art works in the museum collection, many of which
are being exhibited for the first time.
The Religious Arts of Japan
is made possible in part by a grant from the Paul I. and Hisako
Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies at UCLA. Programming in the new
Gallery of Japanese Art is made possible through the ongoing support of
Toshie and Frank Mosher, Nichi Bei Fujin Kai, and Setsuko Oka.
Meher McArthur, Guest Curator