Past Exhibitions

Feature Exhibition: Olympia Meets Japanese Art
June 5, 2021 - July 4, 2021

The Kyoto National Museum is pleased to present treasures from its collection to compare and contrast the ancient Olympics in Greece and religious folkways in Japan. The people of ancient Greece worshipped many gods and goddesses, and among the famous Panhellenic Games held to honor their deities, the most important and famous were the games held every four years at Olympia. Sacred ground to all Greeks, Olympia was a center of religious worship and the location of a magnificent temple to Zeus, lord of the heavens and almighty in the Greek pantheon. The athletes who competed at Olympia trained their minds and bodies to compete before these gods. The victors were feasted for days on end and gained the right to dedicate a statue of themselves on the temple grounds. In their home communities they were honored for the rest of their lives.

Like the ancient Greeks, Japanese since distant antiquity worshipped many deities, competed with each other in the presence of the divine, trained themselves mind and body, celebrated their victories, and feasted together with their gods.

This exhibit introduces art of Japan and East Asia that resonates with the stories and legends of the ancient Olympics, creating what we hope will be an opportunity to enjoy the arts of Asia while learning more about the world of ancient Greece.

8. Competitions in Armor and Modern Competitions

The fourth day of the ancient Olympic games featured the medium- and longdistance footraces, pankration, as well as armored competitions with the contestants clad in heavy armor. Pankration was a brutal sport combining wrestling and boxing with few rules—only biting and gouging were prohibited—that took the lives of many a contestant. For the races, boxing, and pankration the men competed naked, but some races were held in full armor with spear and shield. The Olympic games was the place where humans could demonstrate their best performance before the gods but it was also clearly intended for training of the men for war.

Torch relays, archery, polo, boat races, and the like are more modern Olympic events, but similar events were held a long time ago in East Asia as well and this chapter introduces works of this kind.


Feature Exhibition: Olympia Meets Japanese Art

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