Food and Faith in Japan

A fascinating series of lectures will be offered at the Seattle Asian Art Museum on two topics that have increasingly entered the purview of art historians across the world: food and ritual in relation to art.

Japanese culture, both ancient and modern, is rich in elements of ritual display. Foods, drink, implements for ceremonial performance, and a wide range of display objects such as lacquer and ceramics are found on temple and shrine altars. Paintings extoll the sins and virtues of various foods—often in encoded visual subtexts. Mochi, which many of us know as a frozen ice cream treat, traces its origins to secular rituals for harvest or the New Year and religious rites in ancient Japan. Paintings in the Seattle Art Museum collections transport us back in time to the days when wrongly accused courtiers and statesmen took vengeance on the perpetrators of injustice and were pacified only by regular ceremonies at court or posthumous enshrinement at Shinto jinja.

Professor Cynthea J. Bogel (East Asian visual culture and art history, University of Washington) has organized colleagues, community, and students to form a creative collaboration that explores ritual, foods, objects of display, and medieval Japanese painting side by side. Working with the Simpson Center for the Humanities, the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle artist and cultural anthropologist Julia Harrison, and input from Seattle’s Asian-American artist and confectionary-making community, four lectures will be offered at the Seattle Asian Art Museum free of charge.

Lecture Series: Food and Faith in Japan
Thursdays, January 26 through February 16, 7-8 pm
Seattle Asian Art Museum, Volunteer Park
Free admission 

January 26, 7-8 PM
Cynthea J. Bogel | Associate Professor, University of Washington
Call the Gods! Temple and Shrine Altars

The history and significance of ritual altars found in Shinto shrines and Buddhist temple halls are among the most understudied aspects of Japanese culture. We will look at ritual items, decorative embellishments, foods and display configurations in various religious and domestic contexts.

February 2, 7-8 PM
Julia Harrison | independent anthropologist and artist
Modernizing Mochi: From Divine Mirror to Frozen Treat

A look at the many forms, flavors, and cultural roles assigned to mochi, a traditional Japanese food made of pounded rice, and the technological, historical, and religious factors that influence how mochi is made and consumed.

February 9, 7-8 PM
Satomi Yamamoto | Associate Professor, Kyoritsu Women’s University, Tokyo, and Visiting Professor, University of Washington
Food for Good or Evil? Buddhist Precepts and Food as Depicted in Medieval Japanese Handscroll Paintings

Scenes of eating and cooking are found in abundance in the illustrated handscrolls of medieval Japan. Besides being important sources for a history of cuisine, such depictions of food were also deeply related to the Buddhist precepts. This lecture will consider food depiction in the Scroll of Hungry Ghosts, Scroll of the Origin of Kokawa Temple, and others, and discuss related Buddhist precepts with each.

February 16, 7-8 PM
Akira Takagishi | Associate Professor, Tokyo Institute of Technology, and Visiting Professor, University of Washington
An Examination of The Miraculous Origins of Kitano Tenjin Shrine (13th c.) and the Section Owned by Seattle Art Museum

The legendary biography of Sugawara no Michizane (845-903) and the miraculous origins of Kitano Tenjin Shrine in Kyoto is depicted in Kitano Tenjin Engi Emaki (Origin of Kitano Tenjin Scroll). Michizane was an erudite scholar and skillful politician during the early Heian period who was deified as “Tenjin” after his death. Throughout the medieval period, numerous copies of handscrolls depicting his earthly and posthumous times were produced, and almost 40 pieces still survive today. A fragment of one of these scrolls (Kôan version, 1278) belongs to the Seattle Art Museum and will be the subject of this lecture.

Sponsored by the Seattle Art Museum; the Simpson Center for the Humanities, University of Washington; and the Japan Foundation