Shinto Wheel Shrine, Genso Komatsu

G.W.V. Smith Art Museum » First Floor » Japanese Arms and Armor Gallery

George Walter Vincent Smith acquired most of his Japanese collection through New York and European dealers. He was the first customer of Yamanaka Sadajiro (1866-1936), an innovative Japanese art dealer who opened a shop in New York in 1894, and then branch offices in Boston, Chicago, London and Beijing. In gratitude to Smith for his years of patronage, Yamanaka presented Smith with one of the unique treasures of the museum, an elaborate carved and decorated Shinto Shrine. The heavily carved and decorated shrine, made of more than 70 different pieces of keyaki wood, was designed specifically as an exhibition piece rather than to carry through the streets on festive occasions. The wood is indigenous to Japan and has both hard and soft rings which made it difficult to carve but resilient to changing weather conditions. Shinto, one of the earliest Japanese religions, is based on the worship of the spirits found in nature. These spirits are called kami, the vital force within everything from huge ancient stones to common insects. On the shrine, the small space in the middle is for the honored kami. The shrine represents fifteen years of work. The piece was begun by Genso Komatsu and completed after his death by his son, Gensuke. Genso Komatsu, an architect and sculptor was commissioned by one of Japan’s wealthiest men, Mr. Sugano of Osaka to construct the shrine. The shrine exhibits Buddhist elements in its design, including elaborate ornament and the symbolic use of animals. For instance, the dragon seen in profile on the top of the shrine is a symbol of power and an emblem of vigilance and safety. The lion dogs often are found in Buddhist temples and serve as keepers or guards. The stork, rabbit (said to turn white when it is 500 years old) and turtle are symbols of longevity. The shrine was dedicated to the God of Calligraphy in Osaka. Children offered their first examples of handwriting and deposited their worn-out writing brushes at the temple. The shrine was also exhibited to the public at annual festivals.

Object Creator
Komatsu, Genso (Japanese, active 18th/19th centuries)
Object Creation Date
begun 1790; completed 1805
Keyaki wood, crystal, silver, coral
Object Type
107.5 x 49 "
George Walter Vincent Smith Collection
Accession Number
On View?
Image Request
Request Image for Reproduction