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.

1. The Deities of Japan

Representations of Japanese deities in human form are thought to have begun to appear under the influence of Buddhism and Buddhist images brought into the country in the sixth century. The deities of Buddhism transmitted from India via China and Korea were viewed in the same way as the deities (kami) that had originally been worshipped in Japan; they were either fused with local kami or received as new members of the pantheon.

In order to assure that contestants and spectators could safely travel to Olympia during the period of the Olympic games, the city states all over ancient Greece would temporarily declare a truce in the wars they were constantly waging among themselves. This practice led to the tradition of the Olympics as a celebration of peace. In truth, however, the training of the competitors in the games doubled as the training of men for war. Among the East Asian deities introduced in this exhibition are those thought to bring victory, success in battle, and skill in archery.


Feature Exhibition: Olympia Meets Japanese Art

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