Outline of Exhibition

Special Exhibition Galleries Japanese Shrines -What is a shrine ?-
Period 2006.3.21(Tue) - 2006.5.7(Sun)
Hours 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
(no entrance after 4:30 p.m.)
Admissions Adults / ¥830 (¥560)
Senior high school & college students / ¥450 (¥250)
Elementary & junior high school students / ¥250 (¥130)
*Fees in parentheses apply to groups of 20 or more
Closed 3/27, 4/3, 4/10, 4/17, 4/24


Aim of Exhibition

-Diverse cultures and diverse functions-

Ancient Japanese shrines, which have survived since ancient times through to the present day while undergoing huge changes introduced in the intervening eras, are of great cultural and academic value and occupy an important role in the study of Japanese culture.
Since the year 2000 we have conducted collaborative research not only from the spiritual perspective associated with religious beliefs and faiths that views shrines as precious historical and cultural facilities, but also from a perspective that views shrines as highly cultural and organic structures possessing a great many multifaceted functions. These functions include an environmental preservation function, park-like function and function as natural zoological and botanical gardens arising from their location and environment, their function in preserving and passing down architectural and artistic techniques related to the maintenance of shrine buildings, their function as art galleries, museums, resource centers and libraries that make use of their rich and diverse collections, their function in preserving rituals and performing arts related to traditional festivals and ceremonies, and their function as tourist resources.

Exhibition format

-An exhibition that truly reflects research-

This special exhibition focuses on four particular shrines that are among Japan's ancient shrines. First, we wanted to consider the origin of the Japanese shrine. To this end, we introduce the world of Izumo by focusing on Izumo Taisha, which appears in ancient Japanese myths such as the "Kuni-yuzuri" myth found in the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters) and Nihon Shoki (Chronicle of Japan) and stands as a typical example of a Japanese shrine. Next, we introduce the world of treasures offered to deities that still exist today in ancient shrines, paying particular attention to the function of shrines in preserving their works of art. This is illustrated using Itsukushima Shrine, a classic example of a shrine that has survived over the centuries and is one of our country's valuable cultural assets. Itsukushima Shrine is not only known for its shinden-zukuri style of architecture chosen by the deeply religious Taira-no-Kiyomori. It is also remarkable for its strategic location in maritime transportation and the preservation of its shrine buildings and a great many items dedicated to the shrine despite the troubled periods of the Southern and Northern Courts and the Warring States when many shrines fell to ruin.
We also have on display a series of treasures from Ise Shrine where the custom of building a new shrine every twenty years remains intact. Here we examine the definition of such treasures in both their narrower and broader meanings.
This is followed by an introduction to Gion Yasaka Shrine and the Gion Festival. Located in the ancient capital of Kyoto, Gion Yasaka Shrine was founded on religious beliefs that sought to quell pestilence and revengeful spirits and was associated with a wide range of religious beliefs followed by the aristocracy and common people alike accompanying the syncretization of Shinto and Buddhism. The Gion Festival itself has a long and proud history as an urban festival known for its great pageantry. As part of this display we also consider the relationship between rites and festivals.

Festivals dating back to the Ancient period - Izumo Taisha


On display in "The World of Ancient Izumo" in Special Exhibition Gallery 1 are bronze swords excavated from the Kojindani archaeological site that are famous national treasures and bronze bells (dotaku) excavated from the Kamo Iwakura site that have been designated as important cultural assets. Visitors are invited to experience ancient beauty and mysticism as we go in search of the origins of festivals ("matsuri") in a time before the appearance of shrine buildings. We have also collected a number of items that are representations of deities that have been excavated recently from the Aoki site and have caused a stir in the country's newspapers. This is the first time that these items have been on display in another part of the country. In the "Ancient Shrines and Myths" display we explain the links between myths and rites that have been passed down at shrines in Izumo.
The "Izumo Taisha and Its History" display traces Izumo Taisha from the world of myths to the present time using items excavated from the Izumo Taisha site and the Akino Shika Maki-e Tebako, a national treasure. In the center of the display stands a reproduction of a huge pillar that was recently excavated. Current research on shrine construction is illustrated here using documents dating back to that time and models of some reproductions.
The display "The Spread of Izumo Shinko" explains the propagation of Izumo Shinko among the Japanese people through various means, including belief in Enmusubi, a deity of marriage.

Heian picture scrolls appear on the sea - Itsukushima Shrine


In the display on "Shrine Construction" located in Special Exhibition Gallery 2 there is an elaborate model that reproduces the cluster of shrine buildings built in the sea in 1241. We invite you to take a look at the considerable scale and exquisite form of these buildings rising out of the sea. It was Taira-no-Kiyomori who transformed land into sea to position shrine buildings barely above the water's surface for the purpose of creating a shrine of the greatest beauty.
Next we introduce the Sasai Itsukushima Shrine Inner Sanctuary, the oldest extant inner sanctuary in Japan. The very old architecture dates back to the Kamakura period. An inner sanctuary was normally located inside the main shrine building away from the public eye. Also on display is a prototype of the type of building that housed an inner sanctuary, as well items such as worm-eaten pillar foundations that attest to the great toil required behind the scenes to maintain the shrine buildings of Itsukushima Shrine standing in the sea.
The "Heike Nokyo" display of the Heike Family Votive Sutras affords visitors the opportunity to take a look at the most beautiful ornamental sutra scrolls in the world, which have been preserved for almost a thousand years. The Heike Nokyo have been designated as national treasures.
The display on "Dedicated Weapons" illustrates the aesthetic beauty of accessories used by Japanese warriors as seen in the suit of armor called Kozakura Gawa Kigaeshi Odoshi, a national treasure, and a range of important cultural assets that include long swords, bows and arrows. Here we explain the differences between the weapons that were dedicated to the shrine and their genuine counterparts.
In the displays on "Dedicated Ema (Votive Pictures)", "Festivals and the Performing Arts" and "Visiting Shrines and the Beliefs of the Common People", we feature shrines as places that passed on culture to future generations and tourist culture, including the Hashi Benkei Zu votive pictures and large "shamoji" (wooden rice scoops) that attracted sightseers.

We have set up a special section called "The Treasures of Ise Shrine". It features treasures that have actually been offered to deities at Ise Shrine, and provides an in-depth explanation of what these treasures are.

Religious beliefs of the capital, the pageantry of the Gion festival - Gion Yasaka Shrine


In Special Exhibition Gallery 3 you will find "The History and Religious Beliefs of Gion Shrine" display. We invite you first to view the splendor of Kyoto and the "position" of Gion Shrine within the city as illustrated in the "Screen Depicting Rakuchu and Rakugai (Kyoto)", an important cultural asset.
In "The History of Gion Shrine" and "Gion Shrine and its Flora" we have on display pictures of the precinct of Gion Shrine, which as important cultural assets are important sources from which to decipher various facets of the shrine, such as landscape, construction and religious beliefs. Unexpected meaning can be found in the changes in the flora that make up the landscape of Gion Shrine.
The "Rites of Gion Shrine" provides an overview of the rites held at the shrine, using folding screens as illustrations.
The display on "The Gion Festival as an Urban Festival" is filled with items used in this festival. They include the gorgeous woven decorations such as "Toriboko Mikaeshi" and "Koiyama Mikaeshi", important cultural assets that are hung from the "hoko" (decorated giant floats on wheels) and "yama" (smaller floats carried by people), "Hokogashira" that stand at the top of the hoko, dolls representing children mounted on the hoko, exquisite gold decorations and the wheels of an enormous hoko. In the center of the display there is a hoko and yama, with panels showing all 32 floats that take part in the festival procession. These convey the excitement and splendor of this festival made possible by the huge contribution of local residents.
Lastly, to convey the everyday role of deities and festivals in Japanese life we introduce festivals we have chosen from those held around Japan that are based on the Gion Festival.