The Way of the Kami

Freer, gallery 8

The deities standing upon the Floating Bridge of Heaven pushed down the jeweled spear and stirred with it, whereupon . . . the brine that dripped down from the end of the spear was piled up and became an island.

—Excerpt from the Kojiki, translated by Basil Hall Chamberlain

The Japanese islands were formed when the gods reached down from heaven and stirred the earth with a jeweled spear, according to the Kojiki (Records of Ancient Matters), written in 712. This text thus lays the mythical foundations for a key part of Japanese religious practice: Shinto, or “the Way of the Deities.”

The Shinto religion long predates the compilation of the Kojiki: it may have originated from shamanism on the Asian mainland. Alongside Buddhism, with which it became tightly entwined, Shinto is one of Japan’s main belief systems.

Shinto centers on worship of kami (deities) that reside in the landscape, natural phenomena, and deceased ancestors. This exhibition highlights the rich artistic culture of Shinto belief.