Female Shinto Deity
Originally, Shinto kami (Japanese deities or spirits) were not represented in human form as they were rather associated with natural phenomena or sacred objects. However, the strong influence of Buddhism introduced the anthropomorphic depiction of them, which we can trace starting from the Heian period. 
So how can we indicate that this is a deity and not a statue of a particular person? This statue dates to the Kamakura period, when people were portrayed incredibly realistically, especially in Nara.  The Shinto deity has rather smooth, non-distinctive facial features. The clothes and pose are also neutral, offering no hints to a social status or a lifestyle. The peacefulness of her face aligns with the Buddhist tradition of depicting gods, which is not unconventional: the new and the Indigenous religions in Japan had been intertwining with each other since the Heian period.  For instance, Shinto shrines could be found within Buddhist monasteries, and Buddhist and Shinto gods could be worshipped alongside each other. Shinto deities, even though embodied in the human-shaped statue, nevertheless were not supposed to be openly displayed. Presumably, this female Shinto figure was not demonstrated to the public in the shrine, but was kept in the moveable shrine cabinet to be privately worshipped. 
Rada Brakhman, April 2023
 Penelope Mason, History of Japanese art, ed. Julia Moore (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1993), p. 145.
 Another example of this would be the Priest Shunjobo Chogen statue, in Mason (1993), p. 149.
 Joan Stanley-Baker, Japanese Art (Thames & Hudson Ltd, London, 2014), p. 66.
 https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-asia/art-japan/heian-period/a/female-shinto-spirit [Accessed 4 April 2023]
This single block carving from polychrome wood shows a slender female form. The carving highlights her long flowing robes, with long sleeves that cover the hands, but which appear clasped at the waist. The robe also covers her feet. The eyes are closed, and she shows a strong aquiline nose, with small rosebud lips. There is some blackening round the head and the top of the shoulders. This figure is very slender when seen in profile. There appears some termite/insect damage to the rear and the wood is cracked on the face and the left side of the torso. This figure is very smooth in appearance and the only carver’s marks are evident on the head and three prominent gauges at the rear of the head.
Helen Coleman, 1997
Purchased by the Sainsbury Centre, University of East Anglia from Leighton R. Longhi Oriental Fine Arts in 1997. Purchased on the advice of Robert Sainsbury out of funds provided by the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Charitable Trust.
Title/Description: Female Shinto Deity
Object Type: Figure
Technique: Ichiboko-Zukuri (single block carving)
Measurements: h. 940 mm
Accession Number: 1146
Historic Period: Kamakura period (AD 1185-1333)
Credit Line: Purchased with support of the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Charitable Trust, 1997
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