This project is meant to familiarize Ukrainians with the samurai, a privileged warrior class in feudal Japan that remained in power in the 12th-19th cc., and which remains enigmatic to Europeans.
Items on display illustrate the Muromachi (1333-1573) and Edo (1603-1868) periods and include weapons, armor, works of arts and crafts, prints, poetic works, kimonos, and household items. Put together, they allow one to have an idea about the special samurai way of life.
You can have a guided tour or learn from the captions. A guide will tell you that the word samurai comes from the Japanese verb saburabu, to wait upon or accompany persons in the upper ranks of society. Samurai were both knights, bodyguards, and servants of their masters. They also avenged their master’s death and dishonor. Samurai went ronin after the loss of their master and their self-sacrificial life gave birth to numerous legends. One of them is included in the project as a series of prints.
Samurai weapons [and armor] are the most exciting part of the exhibit: cuirasses, fish-scale armored skirts, helmets, etc. There are various helmet crests shaped as heads of animals, mythological creatures, plants, flowers, insects, and mussels. These crests were made from metal, wood, bamboo, and patent leather. Swords were not major samurai weapons (they used bows and arrows), but served as religious objects, symbolizing the owner’s social position and honor. These swords were held in esteem, so much so each had a name. The exhibit boasts a large variety of swords, ranging from 30-cantimeter ritual to 1.5-meter combat ones, complete with richly ornamented sheaths, also sheathless katana. Shinto holds it that the samurai’s soul is contained in his weapons and armor. After his death his weapons were kept in the home, prayed to, with sacrificial feasts dedicated to them.
A section of the exhibit is dedicated to the Japanese ceremonial suicide, seppuku, commonly known as hara-kiri. The highest samurai ideal, laid down in the unwritten code of chivalrous behavior, Bushido (“Way of the Warrior”), is summed up as absolute loyalty and self-sacrifice. Being prepared to die, the samurai lived a perfect life. Seppuku was intended to demonstrate his courage in the face of pain and death, and purity of thought before the gods and human. Following the first ceremonial suicide in 1156, seppuku became an official way for the samurai to take his own life. Before the act the samurai had to take a bath, put on a special white kimono, makeup, and arrange his hair in a special style. Before disemboweling himself, the samurai had to write a death poem that summed up his life (by the way, a number of such poems are kept in the world’s poetry treasure trove).
Seppuku was abolished in 1868, shortly after the Meiji Restoration, yet it kept being practiced until the last one, performed in 2006. After the monarchy was restored, European full dress uniform was introduced (several items are on display, dating from 1868-1912). This marked the beginning of Japan’s European Miracle.
The religious section demonstrates five spiritual sources: Shinto, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism, and folk religious beliefs, the best parts of which were incorporated in Bushido. For example, one can make a wish in front of the temple of sun goddess Amaterasu.
There are six-leaf screens on display that are works of art rather than household items (Japanese use them the way we use framed pictures hanging on the wall).
The organizers offer martial arts and calligraphy master classes (the exhibit will be open until April 20).