Heather Neill

In the small Tokyo house, an impressive piece of furniture, rather like a dresser, dominates the sitting room where Mr Kobayashi and his daughter Yuriko sit on the floor with me drinking green tea. This, they tell me, is the Buddhist shrine to Yuriko's mother, who died seven years ago. "Buddhism is for death," says Yuri, "Shinto for life." Upstairs is a much smaller shrine containing a mirror. In Japan, in 2001, the long history of the two religions continues; its beginnings can be explored in a fascinating new exhibition at the British Museum, Shinto: the sacred art of ancient Japan, part of the year-long festival Japan 2001.

Followers of Shinto believe that every natural object, from mountain to flower, tree to waterfall, is sacred. The "kami" were gods that inhabited natural objects and, until Buddhism was introduced into Japan in the sixth century AD, there were no representations of them.

Before long, a compromise was reached: Buddhist deities were identified with kami and Buddhas came to be associated with features of the landscape. As a result, the depictions of Buddhist sacred realms known as mandalas showed real features of the Japanese landscape.

The exhibition contains examples of these beautiful, detailed mandalas, some containing a narrative in pictures. Larger-than-life wooden kami sit calmly in attendance, along with smaller deities, often female, indicating a strong matriarchal element in Shinto.

Known as "nurse of the arts and crafts", Shinto is the origin of many traditional Japanese customs, including Noh drama and Sumo wrestling, which sprang from Creation myth and originally represented two gods fighting.

Japan has the oldest tradition of ceramics in the world, with examples dating from 12,500BC. The exhibition features several earthenware objects, some from the prehistoric period, when, before the arrival of metals and social systems from China and Korea, Japan was a stable society of hunter-gatherers in a landscape naturally plentiful with food. The "three sacred treasures" - sword, mirror (originally bronze) and comma-shaped jewel - were commonly found in shrines from the eighth century AD. The mirror was associated with the Sun. There are some splendid examples of these, even though it was the custom to destroy shrines every 20 years and remake everything, following the natural cycle of death and renewal.

Associated courses are available for older students. An exhibition, Discovering Japan, is available for school groups. Visitors can try on a kimono, design a Japanese garden and have their fortunes told while learning about Japanese culture. Information: 020 7323 8511; At the Design Museum, Shad Thames, east London, Memphis Remembered celebrates the 20th anniversary of the debut of this influential design collective led by Ettore Sottsass. Cheap materials, bright colours and kitsch motifs in furniture, ceramics and glassware characterise a style much-collected by other designers, including Karl Lagerfeld, who filled his Monte Carlo home with Memphis objects.

The exhibition also explores the influence of Memphis on contemporary designers such as Jasper Morrison. Information: 020 7940 8790;

The Design Museum runs workshops for groups of 12 or more students. FE and HE students will have the opportunity to work with designs from Dyson Appliances on October 15 in "Design in the Real World: Dyson". Tickets pound;95, group bookings: 020 7403 6933.

A rather more disturbing notion lies behind Trauma, a travelling exhibition organised by the Hayward Gallery in collaboration with Dundee Contemporary Arts. It will open in Colchester on September 15 and go on to the Museum of Modern Art in Oxford in January.

Trauma brings together the work of 12 contemporary artists dealing with subjects "compelling and repellent". It includes lithographs by Tracey Moffatt showing the traumas of childhood, from embarrassment to abuse, and photographs by Willie Doherty of the aftermath of violence in Northern Ireland. Information: 01206 577067;

Visitors to London's Victoria and Albert Museum can revive memories of sunnier times on September 28, when Carnival in Motion will feature a parade of Notting Hill carnival costumes in one of the Vamp;A's Late View events. The next day will feature a children's parade, mask and costume workshops and a steel band extravaganza. Late View events begin at 6.30pm. Information and tickets: 020 7942 2211;

Four galleries in Nottingham have come together to celebrate contemporary textiles in Fabrications. At the Angel Row Gallery, Lucy Brown's piece, "The Brides Clothes" is a wedding garment woven from the dresses of Nottingham brides. Two south Asian artists working with fabric are showcased at APNA Arts at the Art Exchange. EMACA visual arts presents the work of Rachel Burke and Donovan Pennant, who use photography and textiles to explore issues of race, identity and nationality, and at Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery Acknowledged Sources - interwoven cultures features installations by Ali Pretty and Dawn Dupree, whose work is known respectively in carnivals and for including masks and a sense of mystery. Information: 0115 915 36847.

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Heather Neill

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