What do they see ...?

Last week Sadako and I went to the Ota Memorial Museum of Art in Harajuku. We had gone to see an exhibition of 'ukiyo-e' paintings and prints, and spent a couple of pleasant hours studying the works on display. During the time that we were there, I noticed that among the other visitors were quite a number of foreigners. I had to wonder ... what do they see at an exhibition like this?

The average visitor from overseas has never studied much Japanese history or culture, if any. He has probably seen some illustrations of ukiyo-e in books, but he knows nothing about the background behind them - what the pictures represent, why they were created, who they were created for, etc. Beside each picture in this exhibition was a small card, stating the artist's name and date in both Japanese and English, but without knowledge of history and culture, such information is meaningless. For these visitors, an exhibition such as this one must just be a collection of 'pretty pictures'.

Why do they come to see it? Well of course, for the same reason that a Japanese tourist will visit the Louvre in Paris - 'because it is there'. Visiting art exhibitions is a standard part of every tourist's itinerary. But I can't help thinking that it would be much more interesting (and not just for the foreigners!) if the art works were displayed together with more information about the culture of those 'old days', and not just 'stuck' up on the wall. The visitors could then walk away with a much better understanding of what they had seen ...

And, I think, Japan would seem to them just a little bit less like a 'strange' country, and more friendly and open. Do you think so?