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Tani Bunchō, Tiger Family and Magpies, Edo period, 1807, hanging scroll, ink and color on silk, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of Charlotte Wayne and Richard Wayne in memory of Lenore Wayne. Photo © Museum Associates /LACMA

The Roles and Representations of Animals in Japanese Art and Culture, Part 2—A Compassionate Heart for Pitiful Beasts: Animals in Japanese Religions

Barbara Rossetti Ambros, professor in East Asian religions and department chair, department of religious studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and co-chair, Animals and Religion Group, American Academy of Religions

Artworks representing animals—real or imaginary, religious or secular—span the full breadth and splendor of Japanese artistic production. As the first exhibition devoted to the subject, The Life of Animals in Japanese Art covers 17 centuries (from the fifth century to the present day) and a wide variety of media. At the symposium held on June 7, 2019, in conjunction with the exhibition, Barbara Rossetti Ambros spoke on the variety of roles animals have played in religious rituals in Japan, such as offerings and instruments of divination at Shinto shrines as well as Buddhist mortuary rituals and “life releases,” in which the lives of animals destined for slaughter are saved. Ambros described how religious views of animals influenced human interactions with animals through the example of Buddhist life releases and Kanō Eitai's early nineteenth-century painting of such a ritual. Life releases served as a critique of prevalent social practices toward animals and demonstrated the virtues of compassion and filial piety.