LORDS OF THE SAMURAI – Now At The Asian Art Museum

Exhibition Explores the Many Sides of Famed Japanese Warrior Elite
June 12th – September 20th

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

LORDS OF THE SAMURAI opens today at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum. It is one of the most spectacular exhibits ever assembled by its distinguished curators. The culture of the samurai and their code of conduct (bushido) have long captivated the imaginations of both young and old in the Western world. In the special exhibition Lords of the Samurai, on view from June 12th through September 20th, 2009, the Asian Art Museum takes an intimate look at the daimyo (literally “great name”), or provincial lords of the warrior class in feudal Japan (approx. 1300s to 1860). Trained to be fierce fighters, daimyo also strove to master artistic, cultural, and spiritual pursuits. Through more than 160 objects—armor, weaponry, paintings, lacquer ware, ceramics, costumes, and more—this special exhibition explores the principles that governed the culture of the samurai lords. Nearly all of the objects in the exhibition are from the collection of one of the most distinguished warrior clans, the Hosokawa family.

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This collection is housed in Japan’s renowned Eisei-Bunko Museum in Tokyo and in the family’s former home, Kumamoto Castle on Kyushu island, Japan. Seven of the artworks on view have been designated Important Cultural Properties, the highest cultural distinction awarded by the Japanese government. Three of the artworks are designated Important Art Objects, another prestigious distinction awarded only to the works of notable artistic and historical significance. Due to the fragility of some of the artworks, on August 3rd a rotation will refresh the exhibition; some works will be removed and will be replaced with others. More than 100 artworks will be on view in each rotation, and each will include a selection of the Important Cultural Properties and Important Art Objects.

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Haramaki­type armor, black  leather  lacing, red cord horizontal accent  lacing (katadori) 
on shoulder protectors, worn by Hosokawa Narimori (1806–1861), Japan. Edo period 
(1615–1868), 19th century. Iron, leather,  lacquer, silk, and gilt  metal. 

“This exhibition marks the first time that the Hosokawa family’s heirloom arms and armor, paintings, and decorative and applied art objects have been shown in a comprehensive way in the United States,” says former prime minister of Japan Hosokawa Morihiro, who is the regent of Eisei-Bunko Museum and the eighteenth-generation head of the Hosokawa family (see below for more about Morihiro). “I am grateful to the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and everyone else who has collaborated on this project for providing us with this valuable opportunity. It is my profound hope that by showing the people of San Francisco and beyond the wide range of artworks that have been preserved and handed down within the Hosokawa family, we will be able to promote deeper understanding in America of Japanese culture and contribute to the friendship between our nations.”

“Lords of the Samurai reinforces the Asian Art Museum’s reputation for providing quality exhibitions comprising outstanding artworks that tell remarkable stories,” says Jay Xu, director of the Asian Art Museum. “The exhibition provides the opportunity to explore the lineage of a warrior-gentleman family that dates back 700 years. Through the stories of the Hosokawa family, illustrated through their superb collection, we can understand the nature of the upper echelon of the warrior elite in early modern Japan.”

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Tōsei gusoku­type armor, black  leather­wrapped  lames; dark blue cord lacing, worn by 
Hosokawa Morihisa (1839–1893), Japan. Edo period (1615–1868), 19 th  century. Iron, 
leather, braided silk,  lacquer, wood, metal, silk  velvet, and silver  foil.

The Hosokawa family can indeed trace its lineage of military nobility back seven centuries. Only the imperial family and a few select daimyo families have histories extending back even a few hundred years. The Hosokawa family tree includes courageous fighters, poets, tea masters, regional land administrators, a former governor, and a former prime minister—most of whom were patrons of the arts. The stories of family personalities are brought to life through the works on view in Lords of the Samurai. Together the stories and artworks paint a portrait of the classic samurai warrior-gentleman—fierce in battle and refined in the arts.

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Kumamoto Castle, by Akahoshi  Kan’i (1835–1888), Japan. Meiji period (1868–1912), 
19th century. Hanging scroll;  ink and colors on paper.

The Lee Gallery includes an introduction to Kumamoto Castle, the family home of the Hosokawas for more than 200 years. Considered one of the most beautiful castles in Japan, Kumamoto is on the island of Kyushu. In each rotation—June 12 through August 2, and August 4 through September 20—a different hanging scroll will be used to illustrate the castle’s well-groomed grounds and fortifications. The castle included two main towers—one of them six stories high with forty-nine turrets, eighteen turret gates, and twenty-nine other gates; moats; and surrounding walls curved outward at the top. Such defenses discouraged attempts to scale the castle walls.

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Hosokawa Shigekata (1720­1785), by Takehara Harumichi and
Princess Hosokawa Ho (aka Baishuin; 1823­1826), by Kano Ikei Hironobu

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Portraits of many of the Hosokawa samurai lords and their family members are also on view in the Lee Gallery. A portrait by master painter Kano Motonobu (1476–1559) of Hosokawa Sumimoto (1489–1520) mounted on horseback is a highlight of the first rotation. An inscription above the mounted figure by Keijo Shurin (1444–1518), abbot of Nanzenji Temple in Kyoto, dates the portrait to 1507. The inscription glorifies Hosokawa Sumimoto for possessing both bu (warrior) and bun (arts and culture), qualities that defined the classic warrior-gentleman: Hosokawa Sumimoto, a great archer and horseman, is far above other humans. He is also versed in waka [a form of Japanese poetry] and appreciates the moon and the wind. . . . Outside the citadel he takes bows and arrows; in meditation and reading of sacred books he protects Buddhism. Inside and outside, pledging to the mountains and rivers for the sake of the rulers and vassals, always with propriety and benevolence, he attains saintly wisdom.

sake-bottle-and-black-teabowl
Sake bottle and  food box set (sagejū) in the shape  of an eggplant, by Hosokawa Sansai 
(aka Tadaoki, 1563–1646), Japan. Edo period (1615–1868), 17th century. Lacquered 
wood.
Black teabowl, raku ware, by Hosokawa Morihiro (born 1938), Japan. Heisei period 
(1989–), 2007. Glazed earthenware.

Hosokawa Sansai (1563–1646) was one of the family’s most important tea practitioners. He was one of seven disciples of Sen Rikyu (1522–1591), the influential tea master who perfected the Way of Tea (chanoyu). The tradition of chanoyu, maintained throughout the many generations of the Hosokawa family, continues to be observed in the family to this day. Former prime minister Hosokawa Morihiro (born 1938), the eighteenth-generation head of the Hosokawa family, is a celebrated tea practitioner. He has also won worldwide acclaim for his skill as a ceramist and calligrapher. A few of his tea bowls and other tea ceramics are among the many on view in the exhibition. Tea containers, kettles, and other utensils of various origins are also on view.

Lords of the Samurai concludes with a section devoted to the spiritual pursuits of the samurai lords. Zen Buddhism particularly appealed to Japan’s warrior class. Its teachings of self-reliance as the essential means by which to attain enlightenment resonated with these professional fighters. Many of the Zen paintings on view are attributed to prominent priest-artists such as Hakuin Ekaku (1685–1768) and Sengai Gibon (1750–1837).

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Publication
The fully illustrated catalogue Lords of the Samurai: Legacy of a Daimyo Family, published by the Asian Art Museum, includes a preface by Hosokawa Morihiro; essays by Dr. Yoko Woodson, curator of Japanese art at the Asian Art Museum; Takeuchi Jun’ichi, director of the Eisei-Bunko Museum; and scholar Thomas Cleary; as well as contributions by Abe Junko, Miyake Hidekazu, Melissa Rinne, Deborah Clearwaters, Jennifer Chen, and Natasha Reichle. The catalogue is available at the Asian Art Museum store.

LORDS OF THE SAMURAI was organized by the Asian Art Museum and the Eisei-Bunko Hosokawa Collection, Tokyo. Ticket prices for the exhibition include a $5 surcharge over regular museum admission fees.

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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