Europe's first Samurai Museum opens in Berlin

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Europe's first Samurai Museum opens in Berlin
Installation view, Samurai Museum Berlin, 2022, ęSamurai Museum Berlin. Photo: Mario Heller.

BERLIN.- Berlin's museum landscape has a new attraction: The Samurai Museum Berlin – Europe’s first museum exclusively dedicated to the culture and history of the samurai – opened on May 8. In over 1,500m2, the legendary history of Japan’s warrior caste is showcased through a variety of multimedia installations. For more than 1,000 years, the samurai shaped Japan’s art and way of life from the late Kofun period dating back to the 6th century until the early Meiji period in the 19th century.

This world was not only defined by arms and armour, but also by art and culture. More than 1,000 objects in the permanent exhibition convey the extraordinary artistry and wide range of traditional Japanese craftsmanship. The exhibits, ranging from suits of armour to meticulously crafted sword fittings, woodblock prints, and ceramics, as well as an expansive Noh theatre, provide insights into the culture and traditions of feudal Japan. The Noh theatre was built in Japan and now brings the traditional Japanese performing arts of chanting, ritualised dance, and music to Berlin.

The Samurai Museum Berlin presents one of the largest private collections of authentic samurai art in the world, compiled by the entrepreneur Peter Janssen over a period of almost 40 years.

‘Through the Samurai Museum Berlin, I am making my collection accessible to visitors of all ages and of all backgrounds in order to share my fascination with Japanese culture and the history of the samurai across generations. We envision ourselves as a space dedicated to the dynamic transfer of knowledge and as bridge builders – culturally, temporally, and spatially. By promoting both curiosity and understanding for another culture, we invite open dialogue between people and cultures’, Peter Janssen, Collector and Museum Founder, explains his commitment.

The past meets high tech in the Samurai Museum Berlin: Historic exhibits and interactive installations bring the distant era to life. Together with Ars Electronica Solutions, a museum itinerary has been designed to be a multimedia journey of discovery. ‘The creative application of state-of-the-art media technology throughout the Samurai Museum Berlin expands the sensory perception of the artefacts of a bygone culture and philosophy. The technologies that were used to this end, which include laser, dynamic and holographic projections, and special media formats, such as gigapixel images or 3D models, establish new contemporary spaces for interpretation and create a unique hybrid experience’, states Michael Mondria, Managing Director of Ars Electronica Solutions, explaining the technological concept for the exhibition. Visitors will playfully learn about the main features of samurai culture – from the code on the battlefield to the ritualised procedures of the tea ceremony.

Temporary exhibitions cross over to the present and explore the long-lasting influence of the samurai on contemporary culture, both in and outside Japan. For the opening, works by photographer Sylwia Makris will be shown. In her series ‘The 7 Virtues’, based on the seven virtues of Bushido, the code of honour and conduct (literally ‘the way of the warrior’), Makris reimagines female and male warriors from historical events and Japanese works of art and literature in a new and unconventional way.

The Peter Janssen Collection

Inspired by his passion for martial arts and Japanese culture, Peter Janssen acquired his first Japanese longsword, a katana, almost 40 years ago. What began with a find at a flea market in Berlin in 1985, has now grown into a collection of more than 4,000 objects. Which include over 70 suits of armour, 200 helmets, 200 masks, 160 blades, and innumerable sword fittings. The collection is complemented by exceptional unique objects from different spheres of life in samurai culture.

In size and scope, the collection is unique outside of Japan. It not only includes arms and armour, but also textiles, paintings, woodblock prints, tea utensils, and Buddhist sculptures. The pieces date from the late Kofun to the early Meiji period (6th – 19th century) and offer fascinating insights into the development of Japanese culture and craftsmanship. Highlights of the collection are a 18th-century palanquin, a 17th century suit of armour belonging to the Matsudaira clan, and tea utensils dating back to the time of Sen no Rikyū (1522 – 1591). And the collection is still growing – Peter Janssen locates new objects with great resourcefulness and expertise.

Since 2017, select exhibits of the Peter Janssen Collection have been publicly accessible in Berlin-Zehlendorf. Driven by his desire to share his unique collection with a broader audience, Peter Janssen decided to go one step further. As of now, the Samurai Museum Berlin invites visitors to embark in an exceptional journey of discovery in the Auguststra▀e in the heart of Berlin: through state-of-the-art technology and multimedia installations, Janssen opens up the fascinating world of the samurai for visitors of all ages. Children and young adults are addressed as well as laypersons and experts.

‘It is my heartfelt wish to create a space for the whole family. Visting the museum will encourage different generations to explore a foreign culture and entice them to come back again. I hope that this enthusiasm is infectious and that we manage to spark an interest in Japanese culture through clever and playful presentation!’ --PETER JANSSEN

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