anghara (anghara) wrote,

Month of museums #6: Dipping into Culture (the Far East Version)

I kind of wrote about these particular outings before, in brief, right here, but that was back in 2007 and it's kind of a LONG TIME AGO and y'all have forgotten all about it and it fits the topic, so we're going to revisit...

In the meantime, back at the ranch (can you say that in Japan?) we had Culture Day. We weren't sure what he weather would be doing so we opted for indoor activities - and planned out a day of museums and such. The first we hit was the Edo Tokyo Musem, which traced the history of this region from way way way way wayyyyyyyyyyy back in time. It was fascinating stuff, they had everything from early manuscripts to dioramas of kabuki theatre and the bombing raids on WWII Tokyo and 1950 Toshiba washing machines (funky critters, those - think Dalek). I learned a considerable amount about Tokyo's past and apparently the local schools have the same idea because lots of schoolkids were milling about inside while we were there, many of them clad in the Sailor Moon type of uniform I'd first seen back in Yokohama. Very orderly, very mannerly lines of kids with the occasional exuberant high spirits (three of them climbed on the displayed rickshaw - yes, it WAS permitted - and piled on inside on the seat holding finger "rabbit ears" over one another's heads while a fourth took a picture. [info]charlieallery took a photo of me folded into a sedan chair - lordy but they were cramped and uncomfortable, I had never been this close to a real one before I'll think twice about sticking any of my characters in one from now on.

(here's a pic, to prove it...)

We spent a thoroughly enjoyable morning there, keeping an eye on the weather - and the winds had definitely picked up a bit in the time that we were inside but it was still okay so we forged ahead and took the Shinjuku line (oh, we SO own the underground...) to a mid-line station which promised a bonsai museum within striking distance of it but although we went up and down EVERY local street within the radius of a country mile we could not find the place. [info]charlieallery did ask one fellow in a flower shop, figuring that he worked with plants and would therefore know about a bonsai museum nearby) but he made dubious chopping motions with his hands which might have either meant "I have no idea what you want" or "The museum, she is no more". After trudging along this way and that for a fruitless while we gave it up as a useless job and went back to the station to catch the train to the NEXT museum on the agenda, the Japanese Sword Museum.

This one we chickened out and took a cab to, and it was just as well because it was tucked away in a back alley which housed the premises of the Japanese Sword Research Society and their facilities (including a library of medieval documents on swordmaking, mentioned in their pamphlets but probably only open to serious students of the art. But their display area was AWESOME. Swords from the great samurai era, swords from way back in 1639, swords from as late as the 1800s, all shining, all polished to a wicked gleaming edge, oh, it was beautiful. And the whole THING is a work of art, the blade, often carved - the knotwork on the handle - the lacquered scabbard - the gilded pommels - it was just amazing. They handed us these pamphlets explaining things, and how the swords were made, and how to read the "folding" markings on the steel, amazing stuff.

So then, going back in time a little.

If our original plans had panned out as intended, the inconvenient hurricane notwithstanding, we would probably never have made it to the Edo-Tokyo Museum at all. And that would, knowing what I know now, have been a pity.

See, I've always had this curiosity. About the things that came... before. Before me. Before my generation. Before my decade. Before my century. Before my own personal back history and that of my own kind. There were all these people who lived and loved and laughed and loathed and lingered with lovers under moonlight - long before I was ever born, long before my grandparents were, or theirs. The ways of life of the people who came before, particularly if they belonged to some other clime or culture which made them even more fascinating and beguiling.

And because of that curiosity I've always had a thin layer of knowledge... about almost everything, because I tend to get interested, and then find books, and read up, and look at pictures, and while I may not be an expert on many things I have a moderate basic knowledge on a plethora of subjects. Possibly just enough to get myself into trouble - but then, that's a risk one has to take. I'm always eager to go deeper, to learn more, to REMEMBER all this stuff that came before I had a mind to hold the memories in.

This is partly the reason Japan was such a special place to visit - Japan, with its long and rich history and culture, certain aspects of which had fascinated me for years and years before I ever got to walk the cobbles of Kyoto or wander under the eaves of Kamakura's temples.

And the Edo-Tokyo museum, so nearly missed because of time constraints, a gift of the hurricane if you like because it was only due to its inconvenient and looming presence that we were there at all, was all that I would have wanted, and then some.

From the exhibits of the Samurai era to those relating to the more modern Tokyo as we all know it today, and then beyond into the meta-Japan of the Sailor Moon schoolgirl troupe on a school trip to the museum, the thing was fascinating. Completely and utterly. Some of it was oddly formal - well, perhaps not so oddly, this was Japan after all and they have made ceremony and protocol into a high art - but much of it was not, and invited touching, and taking a close look, and being lured into becoming a part of the exhibition yourself, as part of today's Tokyo. I had taken part in a traditional tea ceremony at the Worldcon, not too long before, and it was with a fierce sense of recognition that I greeted the tea things on exhibit in the museum (I had DONE that, I knew how they were supposed to be used). There was the sedan chair which I crawled into for carl_allery to take a photograph of me. There were the silk Japanese fans in the gift shop, which for once seemed to be an inextricable part of the museum itself and not just flimflam and flummery designed to part the tourist from their yen. When you step into this deep a past and walk back out of it in an unbroken line to emerge back into the contemporary day, you kind of let it run through you, become a part of you, and you become a part of it in turn. There's a tiny shadow of me now, maybe only a few atoms but that's more than enough, that's part of Edo-Tokyo's story now. And all it took was that passage, from the present into the past and back again, sheltering from the hurricane winds, slipping into a dream.

The sword museum was a different sort of experience. Focused, sharper (well, in a manner of speaking). We barely managed to find the place, so tucked away into the back streets and unobtrusive was it, and we were the only two Westerners there (and as I now recall the only women, too). The curator girl at the door wore one of those inscrutable Japanese faces as she bowed to us and handed us the catalogue (in Japanese); the handful of other visitors strolling beside the glass cases housing the blades did not in any way stare or raise eyebrows or otherwise indicate surprise but nonetheless for a sensitive personality it was easy to sense its presence even if it was never overtly displayed. We were oddities here, anomalies - and we would have been even without our shining eyes and awed expressions and lips that curved into astonished smiles when the labels - all in Japanese - divulged the occasional year of manufacture. The 1300s. The 1400s. These - these were the genuine thing, the true Samurai swords, and here we were gazing at them with adoring eyes and trying to imagine what the world was like when the steel for these things was first made. I learned here, which I had not known before but which failed to surprise me, that Japan simply does not SELL real swords outside of Japan. Few of them have EVER left these shores. They are a Japanese glory, and a Japanese secret, and even the museum dedicated to them is tucked away into an incongruous side street. It is almost a Jedi hand wave with a murmured, "these are not the swords you are looking for". But they were. They are. Oh my God, they are. They are glorious beyond words, wrapped in drama and high honour and mystery and legend. And it may sound silly to say this, but what I felt walking around this room and letting my eyes rest on the bright and shining blades in their glass cases was... privileged. Privileged to be here. To see this. To be withing touching distance, within a breath, of this much history and myth, folded into steel, glittering softly in the subtle lighting, dreaming of elder days.

Japan... gave me many memories. These two - the museums - are amongst the most cherished ones.

(Want more info on these places: Go here:
Tags: month of museums

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