Samurai, scrolls, street fashion: Fiona Tapp takes in Museum of Civilization’s Japan exhibit

Photo Credit: Fiona Tapp

Fiona Tapp is a British-born elementary school teacher who has called Ottawa home for the past five years. When she’s not teaching, she can be found dragon boating, dancing at Dance with Alana Studios, hiking in Gatineau Park or vegging out with her cat. As a native Londoner, she loves to explore and enjoy Ottawa as a still somewhat new tourist; so far she’s pretty impressed with this “tiny but brilliant” city!

Fiona Tapp

As a teacher, I greet the summer with the same enthusiasm as my six-year-old students, but with quite a bit more planning. At the beginning of the break, I take to my summer vacation planning with all the OCD qualities that (hopefully!) make me a good teacher.

Using different colour highlighters, sticky notes and separate sections — for “Me” time, as well as activities to do with my husband, my girls and around the house — I plan out the entire summer, ensuring every activity, exercise, day trip and overnighter I am interested in is booked, pencilled in the diary and paid for before dreaded September rolls around. This is all much to the annoyance of my husband and non-teaching friends, who think eight weeks vacation is just a little too indulgent for an adult. (Psst . . . they’re just jealous!!)

One of the activities that I had planned and really looked forward to was the Japan exhibition at the Museum of Civilization, which where I found myself on Tuesday afternoon.

My entrance was free as a teacher; just present your Ontario College of Teachers card. (It’s $12 for everyone else.) And as my kind husband drove me there and picked me up, my entire visit was gratis — my favourite price!

The exhibition is housed in Gallery C of the Museum and on the day I visited, I was lucky enough to see Nobumasa Takahashi creating “graffiti” style art on a blank wall at the entrance to the gallery. His cartoon-like traditional sumi-e style is the origin of Manga comics and animation. Visitors were asked to write down their ideas on masking tape for Takahashi-san to use as inspiration, as his style was very quick and energetic, it felt as though you were in a cartoon, watching each character and scene come to life.

Graffiti artist Nobumasa Takahashi (Photo credit: Fiona Tapp)

The exhibition has much to interest Manga fans and contemporary Japan is showcased through the topic of “Entertainment,” including a look at Hello Kitty Comics and Pokemon. Modern Japanese expressions of street fashion were also showcased on a large television screen featuring the wacky and avant garde wardrobes of Tokyo’s “it” crowd. Lady Gaga, eat your heart out!

From Japan: Tradition. Innovation. (Photo Credit: Fiona Tapp)

The fascinating ancient history of Japan is not forgotten and includes artifacts such as Kimonos, scrolls, Samurai armour and swords dating back to the Edo period.

I especially enjoyed the artifacts that demonstrated Japan’s mastery of technology and the miniaturization of gadgets. My favourite of all the objects displayed was a bento picnic box made in the 1800s; I could just imagine a wealthy merchant and his wife enjoying a summer picnic on the banks of Lake Tazawa.

There was a good collection of robots exhibited, both large and small, traditional C-3PO-style humanoid robots, as well as a soft fluffy baby seal, used therapeutically in children’s hospitals and homes for the elderly. The seal responds to touch and is ever so cute — or Kawaii, as they say in Japan!

Museum of Civilization (Photo Credit: Jawcey, via Flickr

I concluded my visit with a walk around the Zen Japanese garden outside the Museum. At first I was disappointed with the lack of colour and flowers in the garden, but on reading an information plaque, I learned that this was in keeping with the philosophy of zen and meditation. As I sat on a stone bench, I realised how relaxing and peaceful this space was — a perfect place to contemplate the March 11 earthquake and tsunami which are referenced throughout the exhibition.

Overall, I enjoyed my visit immensely and am looking forward to returning on September 25 for Japan Day.

Thanks for your insightful description, Fiona. (And we’re definitely jealous of the eight weeks of holidays.) The Japan exhibit runs until early October, but check out graffiti artist Nobumasa Takahashi LIVE until Sunday only!