“Samurai: Beyond the Sword,” a window into history at the DIA

Arts / Article

“Samurai: Beyond the Sword” is going on at the Detroit Institute of Arts through June 1.

The latest special exhibit at the DIA, “Samurai: Beyond the Sword,” seeks to contextualize one of history’s most romanticized figures, the samurai warriors of Edo period Japan. The Edo period spanned 1603 to 1867 and witnessed a great flourishing of culture under the relatively stable rule of the Tokugawa shogunate. Having served to help consolidate many territories in a series of epic battles—chronicled in multiple media on display throughout the exhibit—the returning samurai were legendary figures in their own time, many parlaying their military exploits into political positions and private pursuit of the arts.

Artifacts on display throughout the exhibit represent the apex of craftsmanship in Edo period Japan, including textile work, metallurgy, sword-making, and calligraphy.

Artifacts on display throughout the exhibit represent the apex of craftsmanship in Edo period Japan, including textile work, metallurgy, sword-making, and calligraphy.

This exhibit is impressive in showcasing some beautiful examples of workmanship from the period, including ceremonial suits of armor, weapons, tea accessories, and painted works of art and literature—although the low lighting that preserves them in perpetuity does make it a challenge to appreciate some of the finer details. The harder task, perhaps, is creating the appropriate context to understand these figures who hail from a time and place so different from our modern existence. The audio tour provides fascinating insight into the world of the samurai, and greatly enhances the experience of the exhibit, as do some of the interactive elements.

The exhibition continues until June 1, and has been drawing large numbers. Those interested in the life of samurai will no doubt be fascinated to see some of the commonplace features of their daily existence, or to enjoy some of the samurai movies at the Detroit Film Theatre, which supplement the exhibit.

The Detroit Institute of Arts: 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-7900; www.dia.org Detroit Film Theatre: 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-7887; www.dia.org/detroitfilmtheatre/14/DFT.aspx