HOUSTON-Armor, helmets, swords and other battle gear of Japan's renowned samurai warriors are featured in a new special exhibition at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Samurai: The Way of the Warrior . The new exhibit, dedicated to the powerful military caste that ruled Japan for seven centuries, is open from Nov. 21 through Sept. 13, 2015.
The battle gear of a samurai was an important signifier of leadership, authority and social position, even when worn in peacetime. By observing the elaborate, protective outfits worn by this elite echelon of society, visitors trace the social, political and economic history of Japan and of the ruling military class that eventually became the highest-ranking social caste of the Edo Period. It is widely acknowledged that the Samurai effectively established for subsequent emperors the structural model for many important aspects of contemporary Japanese society.
"This exhibition comes to the Houston Museum of Natural Science from one of the most important private samurai collections outside of Japan, known for the number and quality of its pieces," says Dirk Van Tuerenhout, curator of anthropology at HMNS. "The objects are superbly crafted and amazingly beautiful, each a unique and extraordinary work of art."
Samurai: The Way of the Warrior consists of 80 exquisite objects from the Frederick Stibbert museum in Florence, Italy. Visitors to the exhibition will see full suits of armor, made of varying materials including leather, iron, steel, silk and brass, all adorned with intricate designs, braid lacings, and lacquer finishes; helmets fashioned in eccentric and spectacular shapes with ornaments inspired by sacred objects and natural elements; objects for personal use such as lacquered writing boxes, incense trays, and foldable chairs; and the celebrated katana, the distinctive sword most favored by the samurai.
The term "samurai" is readily associated with Japan. Roughly translated as "those who serve," the word refers to armed supporters of wealthy landowners going back to the late 8th century AD. Over time, the samurai gained power, rising to assume leadership roles as warrior-administrators during the period from 1185 to 1868 known as the Age of the Samurai.
For almost seven centuries, samurai were closely involved in the government of Japan. This extensive period of history can be divided into three parts known as shogunates, a term referring to military rule. From 1185 to 1333, the Minamoto family founded a government in Kamakura, a city south of modern day Tokyo. This governing family and its network of samurai successfully resisted two Mongol invasions in 1274 and 1281. Weakened by these attacks, the Kamakura government was replaced by the Ashikaga shogunate, who ruled from 1336 to 1573. Local lords and their samurai became very powerful during this time. Traditional Japanese art forms, such as the tea ceremony, rock gardens, and flower arranging flourished.
The third and final shogunate was that of the Tokugawa family. Their rule extended from 1600 to 1868. Almost all the pieces in the exhibition date to this third shogunate. For the first time, samurai learned how to govern through civil means rather than by military force alone. The arrival of Commodore Perry with the U.S. Navy in 1853, and the subsequent opening of Japan to the outside world, eventually overturned seven centuries of samurai rule.
Samurai: The Way of the Warrior is organized by Contemporanea Progetti SRL with the Museo Stibbert of Florence, Italy. Local support is provided by Kuraray.
For tickets or more information on Samurai: The Way of the Warrior , visit www.hmns.org or call (713) 639-4629.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science-one of the nation's most heavily attended museums-is a centerpiece of the Houston Museum District. With four floors of permanent exhibit halls, and the Wortham Giant Screen Theatre, Cockrell Butterfly Center, Burke Baker Planetarium, and George Observatory, and as host to world-class and ever-changing touring exhibitions, the Museum has something to delight every age group. With such diverse and extraordinary offerings, a trip to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, located at 5555 Hermann Park Drive in the heart of the Museum District, is always an adventure.