“Jidai: Timeless Works of Samurai Art” is on view at the Japanese American National Museum, 100 N. Central Ave. in Little Tokyo, through Sunday, Aug. 30.
The exhibition looks at the weaponry and armor of the samurai — Japan’s elite warrior class. Assembled from collections in the greater Los Angeles area, “Jidai” features rare and historically significant samurai artifacts dating as far back as the Kamakura Period (AD 1185-1333) in Japan. The display also examines ways this facet of Japanese culture has been preserved, embraced, and shared in America.
The swords, armor, and other traditional tools and vestments of the samurai have been prized and collected for centuries in Japan. This was continued in the U.S. by Japanese immigrants and other collectors. At the end of World War II, an estimated 3 million swords left Japan in the hands of veterans.
Sword collecting soon became highly popular in the Japanese American community, leading a group of Nikkei enthusiasts in Los Angeles to establish Nihon Token Hozon Kai, the first club in America dedicated to the study, celebration, and preservation of the Japanese sword. Numerous organizations subsequently emerged throughout the country, connecting and educating new generations of samurai artifact enthusiasts.
“Jidai” contains many notable highlights, including a tsuba (sword guard) made by Japan’s most famous swordsman, the legendary Musashi Miyamoto. One very special piece was made in the modern era: a tanto (dagger) secretly forged at Manzanar concentration camp by “Kyuhan” Kageyama, a Japanese American who was incarcerated there during World War II. This artifact is the only one of its kind known to exist, and has never before been displayed in a museum.
“Jidai” also features blades bearing test-cut inscriptions attesting to their sharpness; beautiful and elaborate sword fittings and mountings; matchlock firearms; and several examples of the samurai’s iconic armor.
This is a special display curated by Darin S. Furukawa, an artist, educator, and samurai arts specialist, and Michael Yamasaki, a leading appraiser of Japanese swords and founder of tetsugendo.com, a Japanese sword dealer. Artifacts are drawn from the collections of Cyrus Chan, Darin S. Furukawa, M. Kaufman, the Museum of Global Antiquities (MOGA), tetsugendo.com, and G. Yoshino.
On Saturday, Aug. 15, at 2 p.m., during JANM’s Natsumatsuri (Summer Festival), Yamasaki and Furukawa will present an introductory lecture. Learn about the unique forging process and special properties of the samurai sword and see how the distinctive armor of the warrior class functioned not only as protection, but as a reflection of the wearer’s personality. Reserved seating will be available for JANM members.
Also on view are “Before They Were Heroes: Sus Ito’s World War II Images” and “Sugar/Islands: Finding Okinawa in Hawaii — The Art of Laura Kina and Emily Hanako Momohara,” which both close on Sept. 6.
Gallery hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 12 to 8 p.m. Guided tours for school groups are available by appointment Tuesday through Friday.
Admission: $9 for adults, $5 for seniors (62 and over), students (with ID) and youth (6-17); free for JANM members, active-duty military personnel (through Sept. 7), and children 5 and under. Free general admission every Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. and all day every third Thursday of the month.
For more information, call (213) 625-0414 or visit www.janm.org.