Asia is the largest and highest-populated continent in the world. It has a long history of being one of the largest economies in the world and many of the world’s first human settlements are found in Asia. This long historical record means that there is a depth of cultural artefacts present in Asia that is virtually unrivaled across the world.
The Museum of International Cultures has many different examples of Asian cultures, from examples of everyday life to many different types of artwork from across China, Korea and Japan.
The People’s Republic of China is the world’s most populated state, with 1.83 billion people, and the second largest state by area. Due to its large land mass, China has a wide degree of climate variation, including subtropical and tropical forests near the Equator, dry, mountainous areas and steppes further north, as well as areas of desert climate.
The Museum of International Cultures’ China exhibit features a Chinese ethnic group known as the Yi or Lolo people, or the People of the Tiger.
People of the Tiger
The Yi or Lolo people are an ethnic group found in Thailand, Vietnam and China. They are the seventh largest minority recognized by the People’s Republic of China (out of 55) and live primarily in rural areas around Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, and Guangxi, generally living along steep mountain slopes.
Because of their geographic locations, the Yi people are primarily farmers, herding sheep, cattle, and goats, and nomadic hunters.
The weather in these areas is unpredictable and highly variable, with the mountain slopes sometimes causing extreme weather differences as little as a few miles away.
The Yi practice a form of animism with Daoist and Buddhist elements, led by a shaman priest known as the Bimaw. They still retain a few ancient religious texts written in their native pictographic script.
The Museum of International Cultures has an exhibit featuring different aspects of Yi farming life, from farming itself to preparing food to examples of clothing and information on their religion.
Japan is an island nation in East Asia made up of over six thousand different islands, but about four of those islands make up 90% of Japan’s land mass (Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku). Japan’s climate is highly volcanic, with all of the islands having been formed by volcanic activity. As a result, most of Japan is forested and mountainous, which makes it difficult to use for agriculture or industrial activity.
The Museum of International Cultures has displays featuring many different examples of Japanese artwork and culture, including:
Kokeshi dolls are Japanese dolls primarily made in northern Japan. Traditionally, they are wooden, with a thin trunk body without arms or legs and an oversized head that uses a few lines of paint to define the face. The body of the doll generally has a floral design with yellow, red, or black paint.
A more creative variant of the kokeshi doll emerged after World War II, which allow the doll-maker complete freedom in regard to the shape, color, and design of the doll. These dolls may have limbs and wildly different, brightly colored patterns and faces.
The Museum of International Cultures has several kokeshi dolls in display, allowing visitors to get a firsthand look at the delicate art.
The kimono is a traditional Japanese garment that is commonly used for special occasions or festivals, as well as for dressing the dead. It is a robe worn wrapped around the body, with the left side over the right, and secured with a sash, which is tied behind the back. They can range from elaborately embroidered and decorated, with brightly colored layers of silk, to plainer garments made of less flashy colors.
Although the kimono garment is usually for women, some men also wear the kimono, especially for ceremonial events like weddings or tea ceremonies. Sumo wrestlers have also been known to wear kimono, as they are required to wear formal clothing whenever they are in the public.
There are two kimonos in display at the Museum of International cultures, an elaborately embroidered example and a plainer, more everyday examples, so that visitors can get an idea of the wide variety in the art of the kimono.
Samurai were Japanese nobleman soldiers, somewhat like the Western concept of knights. They are known today for their distinctive armor and weapons, as well as their strict code of honor. The katana is a well-known and highly regarded sword even to this day, but the two smaller curved blades that accompanied it, the wakizashi and the tanto, are also still widely made today.
The Museum of International Cultures has an example of a samurai miniature, showing viewers the traditional weapons and dress of the samurai.
Korea is a region of East Asia. Since 1945, Korea has been divided into two states, North and South Korea due to political differences. Although separate states, the two areas are similar geographically. They both feature plains and mountainous terrain. The two states are also similar ethnically, with both states containing primarily ethnic Koreans, who speak the same language.
The Museum of International Cultures features examples of Korean artwork, including:
Celadon is a term used to describe both the green jade color used in pottery, or greenware, and the type of transparent glaze, often featuring small cracks, that was used for the greenware. Although the art has its origins in China, it has made its way to both Japan and Korea.
The celadon glaze displayed by the Museum of International Cultures is of Korean origin, showing how arts can evolve as they cross borders.
Korean masks are a traditional art form of Korea that have many ceremonial purposes. They have been used by soldiers and even warhorses, burial rituals (these masks were covered in jade as a symbol of wealth), and shamanistic rituals. They also had a place in ritual dances and theatre. They come with black cloth attached to either side, meant to both cover the back of the head and imitate black hair.
These masks could be made to mimic the face of historical figures, like the theatrical masks, or to adopt grotesque facial expressions to evoke fear, as in the shamanistic masks.
The Museum of International Cultures has miniatures of several different Korean masks, showing the variety possible in these masks.