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I got my mind chopped in half by the Met’s “Art of the Samurai” Exhibition today. I literally waited to the last day, but it was, nonetheless, excellent.

I was hugely disappointed that they refused photos at every turn with signs and people yelling at people with cameras who hadn’t seen the signs (not me–I know what a camera with a line across it means).

One of my favorite pieces was combination piece apparently popular just before the Edo period: it was half Italian armored chest plate and half samurai leggings, arm protection and helmet. I literally got a chill when I looked at it. Running through my head was, “Yes. I would have worn that in a past life. Had any of my ancestors been anything except very European or Vikings, I would have been that guy.” It had about 10 bullet indentations at it (which totally added to the “HOLY SHIT!” factor) that were induced by the manufacturers to prove it was bulletproof (and finding that out added to the later “Letdown” factor).

I only remember the Edo period because some of the things samurai started doing were kind of ridiculous; crab helmets, swallow tail helmets, things of that nature. One of my favorite sheaths from the period had hearts on it. Like Valentine’s Day hearts. (Then again, chances are good someone probably died on the knife inside that sheath…) It kind of felt like all the excess finally caught up and through attempting to modernize tradition, they retarded their own culture. It looked like they were battling for relevance more than with each other.

But here’s why I liked this exhibit most: I started off not giving a shit about the swords. I was the guy walking through like, “Oh, look. More sharp things. Where’s the fucking armor?” However, I did pace myself and read the placards. By the end of the exhibit, I’d been totally converted; every knife was an intricate piece of art that deserved attention. What I mean is, I went from just seeing a knife to trying to see all the parts of the blade that the Japanese have named (upwards of 15 words if I remember correctly). I was admiring tempered patterns, indentations, signatures, inscriptions, point sizes, and when available, sheaths, handles, and so on. I had a knife epiphany–these were pieces of art because these things were how people lived, this was how you stayed alive. You had to have a quality blade to show that you knew what you were doing but also that you were completely capable of rending guts from bellies. The details weren’t just some bullshit that made it more expensive, they were traditional or auspicious symbols that were meant to aid you in battle. The blade has to be perfect because you can’t always be.

Thank goodness I got in at the last minute because now most of it’s going back to Japan. I told my Mom I was hugely disappointed only by the fact that I had to leave for work. I also told her I’m considering a membership. It’s only 35 minutes away through Central Park–Sunny Days could be Museum Days. Shit, Days could be Museum Days.


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