Today, I went to the zoo. I saw a panda (note the singular). He/she is still very adorable and enjoys eating very much but definitely not as much poop as the pandas before. The frightening amount of tiny children roaming around with parents is scarier to me than a tiger breaking its glass prison and prancing at me (or so I think). I have never liked the zoo. I really do love fluffy animals, especially those that see eating and sleeping (and pooping) as their main life goals. The zoo was more tolerable this time around because of Christmas-sensei’s frequent questioning that directed my attention away from the caged, gazing animals to thinking about the construction and the history of such a space.

The better part of the day (besides getting to try the sensational Ichiran Ramen) was going to the National Museum with a scholar of medieval Japan (SO MUCH KNOWLEDGE). I love museums and have often thought about going into museum studies, the best type of NPOs in my opinion. I paid a lot of attention not only to the displayed items but also the presentation of lights, colors, and space. Compared to the Edo-Tokyo museum of the “ordinary, normal life,” the art displayed in the National Museum is one of ostentatious patronage and elite. And, nevertheless, I love patronage when it gives way to such wonderful creations. I want to someday be highly ranked enough to handle the delicate papers.

A couple more observations:

  • I had known about the prevalence of Buddhism in Japan after the 6th (??) century, but I did not realize HOW prevalent. The Buddhist elements were present in almost every single display, from the aristocrat to the shogunate and the samurais. Buddhism was interpreted and presented differently in each case for various reasons. There were even special mandalas with very heavy Sanskrit/Hinduism/Indian influences. Really enjoy seeing Buddhism from its origins.
  • I have been to the Forbidden Palace in Beijing as well as read many textbook entries about the amazing artifacts in China. But, most of the famous items do not live in China. They are mostly split between UK, France, Japan, Taiwan, and USA. For example, the Mogao Caves has a grotto for sutras. However, when I went last summer, I learned that the grotto has been empty for the last century+. During the late-Qing/early-ROC periods, the imperial forces invaded and took the scrolls for their own collections, including individual collectors and scholars. The fine arts museum in Boston has one of the scrolls, in fact. If museums come to a positive agreement and decide to share/rotate/trade exhibits, the possession of the items would be with a different history than those forcefully taken during times of unrest and violence. I am traveling to Taiwan this summer and my most anticipated stop is actually the National Museum in Taipei, where most of the treasures of the Forbidden Palace are now housed. I still enjoy being able to see these priceless arts, but being in museums does motivate me to question the power of political history even in the “ever-so-aloof” arts.

Author: Gerlin Leu '19

Hello readers! I am Gerlin, an Asian Studies major focusing on religion in South (and Southeast) Asia (although thinking about pursuing academic studies about food culture and power.) I have been studying Japanese for two years now. My original plan was to look at religious NPO's collaborative efforts after 3/11 and how that has redefined the role of religion in society. I am currently also very obsessed with the theories of subaltern and postcolonialism, so these themes will echo through my posts. I enjoy taking photos and talking in person (more than blogging). じゃ、よろしくお願いします。