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.

4. Temples as Gathering Places

People from all over Greece would gather at Olympia to pray to Zeus. And just as merchants gathered to sell goods to the Greek worshippers at the great temple there, so too in Japan were there lively markets in the streets leading up to temples and shrines. The journeys to reach such religious centers were not always safe or easy. The rigors or dangers encountered along the way were seen as part of the meaning of pilgrimage. As the times advanced, however, the pleasurable aspects of pilgrimages came increasingly to the fore, until eventually they came to be equated with holiday-like excursions.

The people who gathered for the games held at the sanctuary of Olympia were not only the competitors and trainers out to display athletic prowess. There were also the sponsors of the athletes, the bards and musicians who came along for the opportunity to find aristocrats or others who might patronize them, orators and philosophers eager to enthrall the masses with their polemics, and no doubt even prostitutes poised to take advantage of the loose spending of all of the above.

In the streets leading up to Japan's shrines and temples, there were not only tea houses for obtaining food and refreshment, but sites for enjoying serious performing arts as well as obtaining the professional services of female entertainers. There were, as well, tranquil scenes of well-to-do families out together enjoying the cherry blossoms or an afternoon at the theater.


Feature Exhibition: Olympia Meets Japanese Art

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