New Year's Celebration at the Tokyo National Museum: Sheep and Auspicious Imagery
Japanese Gallery (Honkan) Room T1 : January 2, 2015 (Fri) - January 12, 2015 (Mon)
2015 is the Year of the Sheep. The sheep has had a close connection with humans since ancient times and was considered an ideal offering to the gods in both the East and the West. It became a symbol of good fortune and patterns with sheep motifs were used on ritual bronze vessels in ancient China. Additionally, the Chinese character for "sheep" forms part of the characters for "beautiful," "virtuous," and "auspicious," respectively. The auspicious image associated with sheep spread throughout the whole of Asia, and even in Japan sheep were noted as offerings from foreign countries in historical texts such as the Nihon shoki and Hyakurensho. Moreover, a textile of white silk twill with a sheep pattern and a wax-resist-dyed folding screen depicting a sheep are among the treasures of the Shosoin Repository in Nara. However, sheep did not inhabit Japan and their use in auspicious imagery does not seem to have become ingrained in Japanese culture. Rather, they were considered foreign animals and associated with the Chinese zodiac. Until many sheep were brought to Japan in the Meiji era (1868-1912), they were expressed somewhat as imaginary creatures.
We welcome visitors to explore the connection between sheep and humans through artworks and artifacts from a number of regions, ranging from the Mediterranean to East Asia, in this four-part exhibition - "Part One: Sheep in Asia," "Part Two: The Chinese Zodiac," "Part Three: The Japanese and Sheep," and "Part Four: Auspicious Patterns."