Japan's Samurai art on show in New York

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The Independent Online

The world's most comprehensive collection of armor, weaponry and art covering 700 years of Japan's fabled Samurai culture goes on exhibit this week at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156-1868" will open Wednesday, showcasing "214 masterpieces, including 34 national treasures, 64 important cultural properties, and six important art objects," the museum said in a statement.

Open until January 10, the exhibit includes "armor, swords, sword fittings and mountings, archery and equestrian equipment, banners, surcoats... as well as painted screens and scrolls," some of which have never left Japan.

"This is the most comprehensive exhibition of Japanese arms and armor ever to take place in the world," including Japan, the museum boasted.

The Bushi or Samurai, Japan's military elite, for seven centuries dominated the politics, economy and society of their country. The exhibition displays the evolution of the Samurai's "omote dogu," or exterior equipment.

Military hardware, especially swords and armor, were highly prized and used for display as well as the dress worn in battle. In pursuit of their excellence, the Samurai would spend untold amounts and go to any extreme.

In contrast to the brutality of their profession, many Samurai became highly cultivated individuals; several were known as accomplished poets, and others as talented calligraphers.

"This exhibition is a unique opportunity to witness for the first time the emergence and development of this 'exterior equipment' together with paintings and other related materials," the museum said.

It "will include many works that are seen rarely and others that have never been shown beyond the Shinto shrines and a temple," exhibition curator Morihiro Ogawa said in the museum statement.

A top feature of the exhibition is the Japanese sword, often called the "spirit of the samurai." Among the masterpieces is a 13th century tachi blade, or slung sword, that was valued at the time at 2.25 kilograms of silver.

The exhibition includes a video showing all the work involved in crafting a samurai sword, from the forging of several types of steel to ensure the blade's resilience and tough edge to its painstaking sharpening procedure.

Samurai armor is another feature of the exhibition, including a collection of unique helmets in lacquered metal, topped with imposing crests inspired by nature that communicated both status and fear on the battlefield.

The collection from the Edo period (1615-1868) includes a peach-shaped helmet with butterfly crest, one with a fore crest in the form of a mantis, another in the shape of a crab and one in the form of a five-storied pagoda.

"I sincerely hope that this exhibition will bring to the public a new awareness of the samurai culture that is often misunderstood as a mere martial art," said Ogawa.

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