Since opening in 1997, the Tenshin Memorial Museum of Art, located in the city of Kitaibaraki, Ibaraki Prefecture, has focused its exhibitions on nihonga (Japanese style) paintings, because that was the style made internationally famous by Tenshin Okakura, the early 20th-century critic and educator for whom the museum was named.
But things are about to change.
Kitaibaraki was devastated by last year’s March 11 crisis, losing key fishing ports to the tsunami and a once-proud tourism industry to the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which is located just 80 km to the north.
The museum curators decided that desperate times called for desperate measures. And thus, from Aug. 18, exhibit spaces that to date have only known the staid tones of nihonga’s mineral pigment will host something completely different: an exhibition commemorating the 110th anniversary of the birth of American animator Walt Disney.
“We decided to focus on something that would brighten the spirits of the locals,” exhibition outreach spokesperson Sadayuki Nagayama tells The Japan Times. “And it turns out that Disney’s life is actually a tale of overcoming adversity.”
Through 700 photographs, animation cells and many other materials borrowed from the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, the exhibition will show how Disney created Mickey Mouse and his many other ubiquitous cartoon characters to a backdrop of economic downturn and war during the first half of the 20th century. “The show will inform the people of the city of Kitaibaraki and Ibaraki Prefecture that the key message of Walt Disney’s life is that you should never give up hope,” Nagayama says.
The importing of American culture to a Japanese museum is pretty much the opposite of the work for which Okakura is best known, but even he would surely agree with that sentiment.
“Walt Disney 110th Anniversary Exhibition” continues at Tenshin Memorial Museum of Art, Ibaraki from Aug. 18 till Oct. 8. For more information, visit www.tenshin.museum.ibk.ed.jp.