Posts Tagged ‘museums’

Hitting the mark at the Miraikan’s ninja exhibition

Saturday, July 16th, 2016

By Jon Ginsburg

Thanks in large part to some teenage turtles and video game culture, ninja are no long hidden in the shadows and known worldwide. The nimble masters of stealth and subterfuge are also experiencing a bit of a comeback in their homeland.

The ninja came into the spotlight at the Group of Seven summit, which was held in Mie Prefecture in May. Iga, a city in Mie that also happens to be “the hometown of ninja,” pounced on the promotional opportunity and had the troupe Iga-Ninja Group Ashura showcase ninja skills and explain their tools and techniques for the summit’s visitors.

Also in 2016, Aichi Prefecture advertised that it would be hiring ninja to promote tourism, as well as its historic Nagoya Castle. No doubt inspired by the upcoming tourism bonanza, culminating with the 2020 Olympics, this campaign will feature ninja performing acrobatic stunts, using their signature shuriken throwing stars and, of course, posing for pictures with tourists.

For the next three months, Tokyo residents and tourists alike can get the full ninja experience at Odaiba’s Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. On July 2, their latest special exhibition — “The Ninja: Who Were They?” — opened to the public.

Three uniquely constructed fire arrows sit in one of the exhibition’s multiple a display cases. Despite its misleading name, fire arrows were actually the world’s first rockets.

Three uniquely constructed fire arrows sit in one of the exhibition’s multiple a display cases. Despite its misleading name, fire arrows were actually the world’s first rockets. (Jon Ginsburg)

On the media preview day, I had a chance to experience it firsthand. Before venturing into the show’s interactive areas, I perused the historical displays and ninja-related artifacts near the entrance. These ranged from different types of shuriken (there are a variety of kinds, believe it or not) to other weapons and tools of the trade, including grapples, iron claws and fire arrows, to name just a few.

The exhibition also contains installations that provide insight into the ninja ways of life and explain survival strategies, such as methods of concealment and secret codes.

What sets this exhibition apart is its interactive component. Visitors — be they children or adults — can test their skills to determine whether or not they have what it takes to be a ninja.

The tiptoe challenge shows no mercy! Hearts sink as the wailing of sirens stationed on either side of the wooden floor force challengers to return to the starting line.

The tiptoe challenge shows no mercy! Hearts sink as the wailing of sirens stationed on either side of the wooden floor force challengers to return to the starting line. (Jon Ginsburg)

The first exercise I tried consisted of jumping over boxes representing sunflowers. Naturally, no self-respecting ninja would leave bent flowers in his wake. While it sounds easy, it’s not merely a matter of jumping high. You have to use your head.

My confidence soared after this first task. I thought I was well on my way to becoming a ninja . . . until I reached the dreaded tiptoe challenge. Participants must silently tiptoe across a wooden floor without triggering sensors that set off alarms. This challenge was easily the most frustrating. My advice to future challengers is to stay on your toes, and don’t let your heels hit the floor.

The shuriken target practice proved to be a fan-favorite among the exhibition’s younger visitors. Kids perfected their throwing accuracy by tossing countless ninja stars at the wall’s illuminated bullseyes.

The shuriken target practice proved to be a fan-favorite among the exhibition’s younger visitors. Kids perfected their throwing accuracy by tossing countless ninja stars at the wall’s illuminated bullseyes. (Jon Ginsburg)

I took another beating at the shuriken target wall. Since throwing accuracy is one of my athletic strengths, I assumed that I would excel at this challenge. Unfortunately, my overconfidence proved to be my downfall. Maybe it was my one-out-of-five hit rate, or maybe it was seeing children half my size hitting the targets more often, but I definitely came up small during this task.

If, as I did, you discover that you lack the right stuff to become a ninja, there are two photo opportunities that might make you feel better. You can attach your head to an animated figure’s body, via the old face-in-photo-wall trick, or visit a light display that shows your digital ninja silhouette. Strike a pose, and the silhouette may even grow or multiply.

“The Ninja: Who Were They?” is an ideal exhibition for those seeking a more interactive museum experience. The history of these Japanese espionage experts is fascinating, but what’s not to love about a show that tests your mad ninja skills?

See City Guide article on “The Ninja: Who Were They?” for details.

Take the kids back in time this summer

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Lunch at Ubusuna House, part of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale. (Rebecca Milner photo)

Last week, NHK ran a story on a “Showa Lifestyle” exhibition at a shopping center in Mito, a city two hours northeast of Tokyo. The exhibit wasn’t aimed at baby-boomers — Showa refers to the historical period from 1926-1989 — but rather their children and grandchildren.

The Mito City Museum, which put on the event, set up a mock living room circa the 1960s. Here kids could experience sitting at a low table on floor cushions, turning the dials on a black-and-white TV, many of them likely for the first time. They could also see what it was like to use an old rotary phone, a foot-pedal sewing machine and even a few pairs of take-uma, bamboo stilts, a popular amusement from an era of few luxuries.

For kids weaned on mobile phones, there may be no greater novelty than the past. They can also get an inkling of how different their world is from that of previous generations.

While the Mito event has already ended, there are plenty of other places where the family can get a taste of Showa life. At this summer’s Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, in rural Niigata prefecture, visitors can eat and sleep inside country homes and schoolhouses dating from the early to mid-20th century.

Many such structures outside of cities around Japan have lost their original usefulness on account of the country’s aging population and lack of attractive job opportunities there for young people. Countless such sites have been lost forever; however, there is a growing trend to label them heritage buildings and turn them into museums or hands-on learning centers.

Continue reading about the Showa nostalgia kick →

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