Curator Barry Till speaks about the Shinto Shrine that sits in the courtyard at the AGGV. He tells how shrines are placed in outdoor settings as homes for the kami and for people to come and worship.

Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

© 2006, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. All Rights Reserved.


Welcome to the Spirituality Section. I’m Barry Till, Curator of Asian Art. Behind me is the art gallery’s Shinto Shrine. The shrine was built in Japan during the Meiji Period, around 1900. The art gallery purchased it in 1987 and moved it here. What is Shinto? It is a native Japanese religion based on nature worship. Shinto shows a love and appreciation of nature rather than a fear of its destructive powers. It has no founder, no prophet, and no absolute deity which would serve as the creator of all. It is simply based upon the concept of kami. In Japan they believe in a multitude of natural deities of such things as waterfalls, rocks, and trees – anything awe-inspiring could be singled out and called a kami. Shinto shrines are found all across Japan in beautiful settings and they serve as homes for the kami. They are usually unpainted and simple. The shrine was a place where the Japanese could come for prayer and spiritual purification. On this shrine are all sorts of fascinating carvings like a dragon, a hawk and lions. The most interesting ones are the Baku. Baku are a mythical animal which eat nightmares. When Japanese children have a nightmare they wake up and yell ‘Devour o baku!’ and the baku comes forth and eats their nightmare. The Shinto shrine can be distinguished from Buddhist temples by forked finials and ridged billets on the main roof beams. There is a large stone basin near the shrine for worshippers to wash their hands and symbolically purify themselves before prayer. Worship takes place outside the shrine and offers thanks to the kami.

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