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Mud season: Perfect time to visit Samurai show

Samurai armor from the Ann and Gabriel-Mueller Collection on display at the Denver Art Museum.
Samurai: Armor from the Ann and Gabriel-Mueller Collection

If you go

What: Samurai exhibition

Where: Denver Art Museum

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through June 5

Cost: Adults: $20; Youth age 6 to 18: $5; Children 0 to 5: Free

Reservations: denverartmuseum.org or 720-865-5000

Yes, the roads are clear. You can whiz down to Denver and back in a day. The Samurai exhibition at the Denver Art Museum, which will interest every member of the family, young and old, is well worth the trip.

The show is not only about the armor and accouterments, which are highly functional and decorative, but also about the Samurai’s philosophy of life, culture and intense training.

Yamamoto Tsunetomo (1659-1719), a Samurai and a prolific writer, wrote, “Being a Samurai lies in seriously devoting one’s body and soul to one’s master and to fit oneself inwardly with intelligence, humanity and courage.”



Throughout the museum’s presentation, the viewer is reminded of the Samurai’s various interests and continual education in literature, poetry, art and Buddhism. At age 6, youngsters were given wooden swords, not to play with, but to learn responsibility that comes with such ownership. Loyalty to the family and ruler and bravery was inculcated into every child.

The viewer is reminded of the contradiction, or perhaps the blending, between the sword and poetry. Agriculture, trade and wealth management were part of the education. Even though Samurai lifestyles are no longer part of Japan, their traditions linger. It is thought that Hari Kari, so obediently committed in the Second World War, can be traced to the Samurai’s philosophy.



Samurai means “those who serve.” From infancy on, selfless bravery was encouraged. Women, who had to protect the home while the men went to battle had their own swords, named naginata, fashioned specifically for their grips and decorated with their family crests.

Included in the tour is an audio guide. Each number in front of the object being described notates whether it is for the adult or the family. The audio for the family talks to the young viewer, making him or her feel part of the Samurai training. It asks if he/she can feel the danger in battle, see the horses’ facemasks and notice the 35 different parts of some of the helmets.

A suit may include iron, gold, silver lacing, fur, silk, lacquer, leather, bronze and wood. All these materials blend and inspire the viewer’s sense of art. The Samurai’s rank was noted by his armor. Every item, while made to protect and help the Samurai fight, is captivating. For example, arrowheads, made of iron, have artistic cut outs to make them resemble lace. The banners are decorated aesthetically with family crests. Swords, boots and vests are all embellished.

One leaves the show with new insights into what the responsibility of weapons means and the way Samurai children were raised. We are aware of the blending of art and other academic pursuits with the philosophy of war, the love of decorating armor, helmets and even facemasks for horses. We ask how deep unquestionable devotion should go and finally, what the remnants of such a tradition means to a country even 300 years later.

To make reservations and for more details, visit denverartmuseum.org or call 720-865-5000

Edith Lynn Beer is an author, journalist and lecturer.


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