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Arts of Asia

The MFAH collections of art from China, India, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia reflect Houston’s diverse communities. Ancient and contemporary works are displayed together to create innovative juxtapositions.


12th century
Camphor wood, with traces of pigment

20 1/2 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Museum purchase

Arts of Asia

Tenjin is the Shinto god of scholarship, literature, and calligraphy. It is believed that Tenjin is the deified form of Sugawara no Michizane. Revered as a great politician and scholar of Chinese, Michizane (845–903) served as the Heian court ambassador to China during China’s Tang dynasty.

In 901, Michizane was exiled and demoted as a result of a conspiracy hatched by his rivals in the Fujiwara family. After his death, many natural disasters wrecked havoc on Kyoto. These events were attributed to Michizane’s angry ghost. In order to appease the incensed spirit, the emperor renamed him Karai Tenjin, which translates to God of Fire and Thunder, and built a shrine in his memory at Kitano.