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Female Shinto spirit

Enlarge this image. Female Shinto spirit, Heian period (794–1185) or Kamakura period (1185–1333), approx. 1100–1200. Japan. Wood with traces of pigment. Courtesy of the Asian Art Museum, Transfer from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Gift of Mrs. Herbert Fleishacker, B69S36.
This figure represents a Shinto goddess; her name is not known. She is depicted as an aristocratic woman, dressed in a thick kimono-like garment. Shinto images like this one were not meant to be seen but were kept hidden in movable cabinets in a special part of shrines, where they were privately worshiped. Since ancient times, the Japanese worshiped spirits (kami) who were believed to exist abundantly in such forms of the natural world as mountains, rocks, waterfalls, and trees. As such, they were not depicted in human form, male or female. It was only in the ninth century, under the strong influence of Buddhist image-making, kami began to be depicted in human form.

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