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More than warriors

(10 June 2016)

The role of Japan’s samurai soldiers as patrons and producers of the arts is being showcased in a new exhibition now open at the Oriental Museum.

Museum staff and academics from Durham University’s School of Modern Languages and Cultures have worked together to develop the exhibition, The Shogun’s Cultured Warriors, which reflects the latest research into the lives of this warrior elite. 

The exhibition includes historic armour and weapons, together with wood block prints, lacquerware and ceramics, some dating back as far as the 16th century, together with modern objects such as film posters and cosplay fashion. 

Exhibition curator, Dr Rebekah Clements, said: ‘Contrary to their rough image as fighters, Japan’s samurai elite were lovers of literature and the arts, leaving behind a legacy that continues to the present day.

‘The ruling shoguns and their high-ranking samurai were keen to cultivate their reputation as cultured rulers in the East Asian tradition. When they took over as the effective centre of power in Japan from the 12th century many adopted courtly pursuits including Japanese and Chinese poetry, painting, and calligraphy.

‘In 1644 when the Ming dynasty in China fell to the Qing, a tribe who were regarded as uncultured barbarians, many of Japan’s samurai elite saw themselves as the true inheritors of the cultural legacy of China.'

The Shogun’s Cultured Warriors opens to the public on Tuesday 7th June and runs until Sunday 27th November, and is supported by the Centre for Visual Arts and Culture at Durham University. Find out more.

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