‘Jump to Japan’ a virtual trip to Japan

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Since September 24 many Twin Cities’ kids and their parents have visited Japan (virtually that is) and many more will continue to visit through February 26, that is when the Jump to Japan: Discovering culture through popular art exhibit leaves the Minnesota Children’s Museum in downtown Saint Paul and moves to Naperville, Illinois.

The exhibit started in Seattle January 2004 and has shown in five Children’s Museums, beside Minnesota’s and will play at six more, closing in San Antonio in April 2008. It is funded by the Freeman Foundation Asian Exhibit Initiative and administered by the Association of Children’s Museums of America. Jump to Japan is not the only Freeman Asian exhibit touring America’s Children Museums, there are seven covering the cultures of Vietnam, the Hmong people, Korea, China and Japan. Japan is represented in three of the exhibits. Jump to Japan was developed by the Seattle and Minnesota Children’s Museums.

The purpose of Jump to Japan is to introduce children to the culture of Japan through the popularity of Japanese animation and comics (anime and manga), a medium American kids are well familiar with. There is a strong link from anime and manga that goes back to woodblock prints and ancient scrolls.

The exhibit has a replica of the scroll, Choju Gica or Frolicking Animals. It was drawn (or authored if you will) by 12th Century Buddhist Priest and artist Toba Sojo on a 36-foot single sheet of paper showing animals as people interacting with one another. Viewing it from right to left (the Japanese way) children can follow the story line Toba Sojo was conveying.

Woodblocks prints show that connection to today’s pop art too. There are many prints in the exhibit to tantalize the young museum goers, seven of them are from artist Syuntei Miyagawa’s Picture Book of Child Play.

There are a lot of hands on activities children and adults can do. They can compose their own animation by placing manga style characters and objects over memorable woodblock images. They can ride the famous shinkansen (bullet train) by moving it along tracks imbedded in a map of Japan turning on back lighted photos of the area it is passing through.

There is a manga magazine and book store where the kids can play shopper and store keeper with Japanese play money. Shelves in the store hold a variety of books and magazines including four panel comics published in anthology form.

There are scenes from famed animator and Academy Award winning director, Mayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro. Visitors view stills from the movie through a projector box that in turn projects them into a moving image upon a screen.

The kids can also meet the characters from the film as bigger than life statues — Sisters Mei and Satsuki and the magical Totoro (who can only be seen by children who love him) waiting at a bus stop for the cat bus, which is off to the side ready to take them on their adventures.

A big hit of the exhibit is a Japanese home of Japan’s Edo (former name of Tokyo) period (1603-1867). Alongside the home a carp banner flies honoring the boys in the family during Children’s Day. In the home’s tatami mat room kids and mom and dad are invited to remove their shoes, don Japanese kimonos and sit on zabutons (floor pillows) and for a moment of relaxation in old Japan. The room also boasts shelves of Japanese festival food and a case displaying Hina Ningyo (traditional dolls) in honor of Girls’ Day.

Volunteer activities add greatly to the exhibit too. Linda Hashimoto van Dooijeweert’s Sansei Yonsei-Kai dance group performed on opening day September 24 and again on December 4, Our World Sunday. Carol Weston Hanson, owner of Fujiya Restaurant across the street from the museum, taught children the preparation of sushi on one day and how to fold origami on another.

From now through February on Saturdays mornings, local manga artist Erik Lervold will demonstrate manga art. Mu Daiko and their booming taiko drums will help kids and their families celebrate an early New Year’s celebration December 31, 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the museum’s Habitot New Year’s Eve party.

The Paul and Sheila Wellstone Elementary School’s kindergarten class visited the exhibit earlier this month and will do so again on January 10. They plan to bring miniature shoe box cover models of the Ruth Tanbara Japanese garden that sits outside their class room windows. Mrs. Tanbara, the only surviving founding member of the Saint Paul-Nagasaki Sister City Committee, was held in high esteem at the Saint Paul YWCA where she worked for many years. When she retired in the early 1970s, the Y built the Ruth Tanbara Japanese Garden at their downtown Saint Paul building. The Y moved uptown and the building is now occupied by the Wellstone School. The school, very interested in the garden and its history, started restoration on it last year. The rededication date is tentatively set for April 2006.

Jump to Japan is a fascinating exhibit and only costs $7.95 for admission of ages 1 to 101, members are free. The Habitot New Year’s Eve party, if bought before December 23, is $6 per museum member and $10 for non-members. After that date the price goes up to $8 and $12. Children under one are free.

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