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Exploring 'The Art of the Samurai' at Bowers Museum

May 2, 2009 |  9:00 am

Samurai

Samurai warriors may be best known in the United States from movies and video games, but a more authentic and nuanced view of their legacy and culture is being presented in “The Art of the Samurai” at the Bowers Museum.

A warrior class, “samurai” means “those who serve in close attendance to nobility.” Though their status was initially low, during the Edo period (1603-1868), they began using weapons, grew more powerful and were elevated to a more refined social class. Their skill and focus is reflected in their sword making, which involves hammering metal thousands of times to make weapons known for their unique curvature.

Samurai1 The exhibition, which includes 81 objects from the Tokyo National Museum, is divided into two thematic sections illustrating multiple aspects of samurai life. The first part features battle regalia, including armor, handcrafted swords, robes and medicine cases worn on the warriors’ belts; the second part focuses on the culture of the time via objects such as tea ceremony paraphernalia, scrolls, calligraphy and costumes for Noh theater. Also on display is a screen called “Chronicle of Yoshitsuni,” which depicts various battle scenes, on loan from the private collection of Etsuko and Joe Price.

In fact, the Price collection, seen in “The Age of Imagination: Japanese Art, 1615-1868” at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art last year, inspired Bowers President Peter Keller to travel to Japan to see the Tokyo National Museum’s samurai collection firsthand. (A version of the exhibition was also at the Kremlin in Moscow last fall.)

“The aesthetics excited me,” said Keller. “The whole history of the samurai philosophy continues today in so much that [everyday people] do in Japan.”

The exhibition runs through June 14 at the Bowers Museum, 2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana. Tickets are $12 for adults, $9 for students, seniors and children age 6 to 17; and free for those younger than 6. Info: (714) 567-3600; www.bowers.org.

-- Liesl Bradner

Photos: top, Atsuita garment (Noh costume) with designs of hexagons, interlocking circles and paulownias; bottom, Jinboari with dragon roundel on red wool. Credits: Tokyo National Musem; Bowers Museum

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