The samurai is a global archetype today: the perfect warrior-gentleman, calmly indifferent in the face of death but deeply moved by the beauty of art and nature. This is precisely how many samurai liked to see themselves. A few perhaps even lived up to this ideal.
Samurai and the Culture of Japan’s Great Peace brings to life the many-layered history of the samurai and those they ruled—a history full of drama and paradox. In the 1500s, samurai nearly destroyed the Japanese state in their incessant wars. But after 1615, they presided over 250 years of peace, the longest that any large society has ever known. In the exhibition, you’ll encounter shimmering swords and intimidating armor, and discover that most were actually made at a time when war had passed from memory into myth. The primary function of the blades and armor was not to protect an owner or to fell foes, but to justify the inherited privileges of warriors who had not fought a battle in generations.
Featuring more than 150 spectacular artifacts from four Yale collections—the Peabody Museum, Yale University Art Gallery, Yale Collection of Musical Instruments, and the Sterling Memorial Library—the exhibition will also introduce you to hungry emperors; drowned warriors reborn as small crabs; commoners alternately fearful of samurai violence but swept up in its romance; artists and writers conjuring scenes of adventure and wit; families reaching out to departed kin across the chasm of death; parents deciding whether to raise or reject a newborn baby; underground Christians hiding their faith behind a Buddhist icon; and Japanese artifacts that take on new meanings in Ainu villages and the parlors of New England collectors.
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Support for Samurai and the Culture of Japan’s Great Peace was generously provided by Connecticut Humanities, the Council on East Asian Studies at Yale University, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, and The Japan Foundation, New York.