Leene Truu: invented traditions of Japan

Exhibition “Warrior’s Way. The History of Japanese Martial Arts”
February 4 – April 10, 2016
Organiser: Kiek in de Kök (1)

The exhibition “Warrior’s Way. The History of Japanese Martial Arts” introduces the historic formation as well as current developments of Japanese martial arts. It consists of two parts: texts introducing the history of Japan and historic weapons are on display, and at the same time an overview is given on modern schools, while tools of training and a film can be watched. Speaking about my impressions of the exhibition, I would bring out three aspects: exposition, content, and programme.

The exhibition is made special mainly by its location. The swords, armour and helmets displayed in the medieval tower draw attention as soon as one enters the room due to good placement. The space left between the exhibits allows them to gain prominence. Also, there is a good balance between the displayed military equipment and the introductory texts and photos. The weapons came to life for me especially due to the photos of scenes where the warriors are in full combat armour. It was also impressive to examine the rituality and abundance of symbols reflected in the decorations of military equipment.

The thing I most appreciate about exhibitions is that they make me think more broadly and arouse interest to explore further. From this viewpoint, I’m very satisfied with the exhibition. One topic that did remain unanswered results from the fact that I have always considered martial arts known as fields of sport self-evidently ancient. In the modern martial arts portion of the exhibition, there is, among other things, an overview of aikido, which emerged in the 19th century. Exploring this question further I found the concept “invented traditions”, in light of which some Japanese martial arts are treated as well. To my joy I discovered that similar questions are raised by cultural theoretician Tarmo Jüristo, who gives the lecture “How Traditional Are Traditional Japanese Martial Arts?” among the series of lectures accompanying the exhibition. As many questions related to Japanese culture arose by visiting the exhibition, I will definitely use the opportunity to attend this and other lectures and workshops in March.

In conclusion, the exhibition spoke to me and offered lots of food for thought. It was definitely an exciting introduction to the world of Japanese martial arts. The interesting display created curiosity for the rituals and cultural practices that manifest itself in a culture.

(1) The travelling exhibition compiled by the Japan Foundation has reached Estonian audience in collaboration between Kiek in de Kök and the Embassy of Japan.