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The Samurai are here! "Samurai: Beyond the Sword" at the DIA by DC-in-Detroit

DC is a longtime contributor to the MCB.
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6 March 2014

"An undisturbed mind is like the calm body of water reflecting the brilliance of the moon. Empty the mind and you will discover the undisturbed mind." -Yagyu Jubei Mitsuyoshi (1607-50)

A beautiful new exhibit, "Samurai: Beyond the Sword," has arrived at the DIA, and will open to the public this Sunday, 9 March. This morning, I enjoyed a sneak peek at the show, which was a year in the making.

There are two audio tours available, one intended for adults and one for children (8+). In his opening remarks, museum director Graham Beal mentioned that while complimenting the adult audio commentary, many previewers admitted that they also listened to the children's track — and really enjoyed that. I did listen to both, and if you're the type of person who enjoys a comment track, grab the audio gadget on your way in. It's worth it.

Although Samurai are most known for being fierce warriors, this exhibit was built to explore the dual priorities of the Samurai life: the bun and the bu, or "arms and art" (or "war and peace," "learning and fighting"…). Famously master swordsmen, Samurai were also educated men of high social rank, trained in various art forms. The exhibit is softly divided between the impressive swords and full suits of armor, and the gentler arts of calligraphy, painting, theater, and even high tea, to display these connected practices. Painted books and large room screens showing detailed battle and life scenes were not just created to honor the Samurai, but, in many cases, created by the Samurai themselves.

As they are not encased, I had an opportunity to get as close to the armor sets as the ropes would allow. I'm a handcrafter, and so of course want to take in all of the knotwork, the weaving, the iridescent flecks of crushed shell, every little detail. After a couple of centuries, the armor still holds the scent of bamboo and lacquer, creating a layer of intimacy and authenticity. I love the scale of the exhibition rooms, with a large space often being punctuated by a singular suit of armor. It suggests a sort of quiet and focus, themes repeated throughout the exhibit.

On your way out, be sure to visit this 500 year old portrait, right near the exit. According to the audio tour, his expression has never been seen in other portraits. Who knew the wry beard-twirler had such a storied history?

Samurai: Beyond the Sword 
runs from 9 March 2014 to 1 June 2014.
Museum Hours
Tuesdays–Thursdays: 9 a.m.–4 p.m.
Fridays: 9 a.m.–10 p.m.
Saturdays and Sundays: 10 a.m.–5 p.m.
$16 for adults, $8 for ages 6–17, free for DIA members
Groups (15+): $12 per ticket
Tickets are timed and advance purchase is recommended. Tickets are available at the DIA Box Office, or 313-833-4005.