By Alex MacDougall
One of the most well-known facets of Japanese culture and history is that of the Samurai. The elite warrior-class that played a large role in Japanese society until the modernization of the country in the 19 century, and continues to influence Japanese movies, comics, and videogames. But who were the Samurai, really? We Americans know them as swordsmen, but what of their families, their duties, or their way of life?
It’s these types of questions that Eric Nakamura, editor of the Los Angeles-based magazine Giant Robot, hopes to answer as he opens his new exhibit at the Worcester Art Museum. A Japanese-American, Nakamura has been fascinated with Samurai from a young age, and hopes to share his enthusiasm with the exhibit, titled Samurai! Japanese myth and tradition in the contemporary imagination. The exhibit opened last Friday and continues into September.
“Samurai exhibitions have always only shown historical objects,” Nakmura said. “Ever see historical objects and contemporary work? It sounded fun and cool. The chance to do something different like this is rare, and WAM took that chance and I’m guessing is succeeding with it.” said Nakamura.
The exhibit opened last Friday with a “Giant Samurai Party” at the museum, which featured performances with taiko drummers and shakuhachi flutists. People dressed up in Samurai costumes, as well as characters from the Samurai-influenced manga series Bleach. A food truck placed outside the museum served Japanese food to those entering and leaving the museum.
The exhibit was split into two rooms, one featuring historical pieces, the other works by modern artists. The historical room features many works by the 19 century woodblock artist Yoshitoshi, whose works depict Samurai as well as the conflict between the tradition and Westernization of Japan. The modern room featured work such as a female Samurai with her daughter, as well as Japanese woodblock-style caricatures of various Nintendo characters.
“I hope museum goers learn, have fun, and become inspired,” Nakamura said. “I hope they learn a little more about Samurai via the historical or art objects. This is just a start in the end. There’s so much more one can learn about Samurai!”
The exhibit runs all summer until September. Museum admission is free for Worcester State faculty, staff and students with presentation of ID.