Pastimes and Amusements of the Japanese

Otaku, beware! Manga and anime are acknowledged only on a placard in "Pastimes and Amusements of the Japanese," and that is just a passing mention. Perhaps that's because obsession doesn't constitute an amusement? To those less-hardcore fans of Asian culture, sure, a recreational exhibit during summer sounds like more of the same, but this one tries hard to be comprehensive, though it falls short. It attempts to represent, in a few small rooms, a wide range of the leisure activities of a society over a couple of centuries. As a result, plastic transformers cozy up to teapots; political piggy banks in the form of recent prime ministers are displayed next to theatrical masks from the days of yore. We can appreciate that in the Hensei period (which means now but sounds more historically significant) "Trivial Pursuit, Japanese Language Version" is appreciated by our Asian cousins, but did it really need to be displayed under plexiglass? The exhibit cuts such a wide swathe — from mid-20th-century sumo collecting cards and the wrestler's autographed handprints to late-19th-century woodblock prints depicting scenes from 14th-century No theater — that it's more disorienting than anything. The exhibit would be stronger if the Morikami had focused on a single era or a single genre — sports, theater, music, art: Pick one! With the rich dramatic history of the Japanese, an entire exhibit could focus on theatrical traditions: kabuki, no, kyogen, bunraku. Instead, we get a few masks, some woodcut prints, a history lesson on a plaque. And then like a kid with ADHD, we're off in all directions — folk dolls, kites, some images on kimono linings, a room screen. By the time we got to the mythological painting of the sun goddess being wooed from her cave with a lewd dance, our heads began to spin. We had to sit on a bench and take a second to see if we could make sense of the exhibit's seeming randomness. Music and dance are hardly represented at all. And what's the point of having a musical instrument — in this case, a koto (floor harp) — if it's displayed silently under plexiglass? (Through September 16 at Morikami Museum, 4000 Morikami Park Rd., Delray Beach. Call 561-495-0233.)

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Marya Summers