Archive for the ‘Around the World’ Category

Happiness in Bhutan: Around the World with Dr. Richard Kurin

Monday, April 1st, 2013

richard-kurinDr. Richard Kurin serves as the Smithsonian Institution’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture with responsibility for most of its museums including the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Freer and Sackler Galleries, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Anacostia Community Museum, the National Museum of African Art, the National Postal Museum, and others including the soon to be built National Museum of African American History and Culture. He also oversees research and outreach programs, including the Smithsonian’s Traveling Exhibition Service, The Smithsonian Associates, the Smithsonian Channel, and the Smithsonian Affiliates—a network of 168 museums across the U.S. Read More»

Dr. Kurin is currently leading a group on an around-the-world tour of some of the world’s extraordinary cultures and will be sending regular updates from abroad. Come back regularly to follow along!

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Dispatch #6: Happiness in Bhutan

Though a fogged-in airport in Katmandu delayed our departure to Bhutan, we arrived safely in the beautiful Himalayan Royal Kingdom.

Our group split into two, staying at hotels in the Paro Valley, each enjoying a good meal and a stimulating lecture. My group stayed at the Ziwa Ling, built in the style of Bhutan’s wooden decorated buildings, and participated in a session on Gross National Happiness by Kempo Tashi, a Buddhist scholar and the head of Bhutan’s National Museum. Gross National Happiness is the government’s national policy, initiated by the former king, to remove barriers to enlightenment among its people by encouraging cultural and environmental preservation, improvement in the quality of life—through education, economic progress and so on, and accountable, efficient government. It is an intriguing way of thinking about policy goals rather than just in terms of per capita income or strictly utilitarian measures. We had many questions and a lively discussion.

The group was greeted at their hotel by a local dance

Local dancers greet the group at the hotel

Again, splitting into smaller groups, an adventuresome lot took on the challenge of climbing up to Paro Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest, a Buddhist monastery perched at 10,000 feet along a mountainside. Aside from its religious significance, the monastery is an impossibly beautiful logistic and architectural marvel, now on the list for a proposed World Heritage Site. Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava, who first brought Buddhism into the region meditated in a cave at the site in the 8th century. An elaborate monastery was built in the late 17th century, and after a terrible fire in 1998, it was renovated in 2005. Though the climb is tough and challenging, a good number of our colleagues successfully make the arduous climb and take in the astounding site of the Paro Valley laid out before them.

A Solitary Monastery in Bhutan

A solitary monastery in Bhutan

Others head for Thimphu, the kingdom’s capital city and the largest town—now about 100,000 in residence. The drive takes us along the Paro River and then northward up the Thimphu Valley. Gorgeous countryside, with mountains, terraced rice fields, and native-style homesteads and Buddhist sites greet us.

Stupa in Thimphu

A stupa in Thimphu

In Thimphu, we visit sites—a stupa and shrine, the Post Office—which produces the most amazing stamps in the world, and the bazaar. I take a small sub-group to government offices where we have a private meeting with Prime Minister Jigme Thinley. I have known Thinley since we worked together on the Bhutan program for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival years ago. He’s been in office for five years—having been the first democratically elected head of government since the kingdom transitioned to a constitutional monarchy in 2008. He’s now running for re-election and reflected on Bhutan’s progress, its issues and challenges. The discussion was excellent, and members of our group came away impressed with his knowledge, wisdom and perspective and what it said about the quality of Bhutan’s leadership.

Smithsonian travelers with the Prime Minister of Bhutan.

Smithsonian travelers with the Prime Minister of Bhutan.

We followed this up with a visit to RENEW, a project to help women suffering domestic violence. The project provides counseling, temporary residence, and job training. Again we were impressed with the straightforward, compassionate and thoughtful problem-solving approach explained by the director and her staff. With TCS Starquest, we donated to the center a new refrigerator, which had been at the top of the project’s request list.

At lunch, some of the group discussed elections, social issues and other matters with Dorje Tsherling, Bhutan’s director of culture. We found interesting comparisons between the U.S. and Bhutan.

Smithsonian travelers with the Prince of Bhutan

Smithsonian travelers with the Prince of Bhutan

In the evening, the whole group came to the Ziva Ling for a special dinner, where we hosted His Royal Highness, Prince Dasho Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck. The young prince had led the Bhutanese delegation to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 2008. We had a spirited dinner conversation. He is now heading Bhutan’s Olympic Committee and seeking to have his country compete in a number of both winter and summer sports. As a 28-year old, he is attuned to the thinking of Bhutanese youth and their aspirations for the country. The Prince graciously greeted and spoke with every person at dinner, hearing their impressions of their quick visit, and urging them to return. Everyone heartily agreed.

A Glimpse of Mount Everest from the Sky

A glimpse of Mount Everest from the sky

Early the next morning we head out for Katmandu and India. On the way, we get a special treat. The sky is relatively clear at 30,000 feet, and we are able to see the high peaks of the Himalayas, including Mt. Everest. After a truly wonderful, enlightening visit to Bhutan, we are on top of the world!

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Find more information about our Around the World Private Jet trips here.

Read Dr. Kurin’s previous dispatch from Katmandu: Quickly Exploring Katmandu: Around the World with Dr. Richard Kurin”

Quickly Exploring Katmandu: Around the World with Dr. Richard Kurin

Monday, April 1st, 2013

richard-kurinDr. Richard Kurin serves as the Smithsonian Institution’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture with responsibility for most of its museums including the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Freer and Sackler Galleries, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Anacostia Community Museum, the National Museum of African Art, the National Postal Museum, and others including the soon to be built National Museum of African American History and Culture. He also oversees research and outreach programs, including the Smithsonian’s Traveling Exhibition Service, The Smithsonian Associates, the Smithsonian Channel, and the Smithsonian Affiliates—a network of 168 museums across the U.S. Read More»

Dr. Kurin is currently leading a group on an around-the-world tour of some of the world’s extraordinary cultures and will be sending regular updates from abroad. Come back regularly to follow along!

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Dispatch #5: Quickly Exploring Katmandu

Katmandu’s growth has exploded over the four decades since I first visited Nepal in 1970. Tourists, trekkers and migrants from villages across the nation have made the valley a populous place. Houses made of its characteristic red brick look like Legos sprouting up everywhere. Smokestacks of the brick-making kilns are ubiquitous, and the smoke makes for a hazy sky, obscuring the surrounding Himalayan mountain ranges.

Much has changed in Nepal with its bursting population, new businesses and communications technologies that connect what was once a distant mountain kingdom to an interconnected global system. Nepal too has suffered political instability with the ending of its monarchy and the failure to draft a new constitution and develop a workable national government. And while the capital city has many conveniences, rural areas face high unemployment, lack of education, few decent roads, poor health care and few other civic services.

A Pagoda in Bhaktapur

A pagoda in Bhaktapur

Amidst this change and its challenges, visits by our group to the Valley’s old sections of Katmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur are instructive. The Katmandu Valley has, since ancient times, been the home of Newars who defined its language, cuisine, and customs. But added to this native base, the valley became a meeting and even melding point of sorts in the Himalayas for Buddhists, Hindus and those practicing an indigenous animism. People came up from India’s Gangetic Plain, and down from Tibet’s high plateau. Elements of a cultural potpourri in art, music, dance, food, craft, and architecture were woven together by Newars over the centuries. In the 18th century, the valley was conquered by Gorkhas, and their kingdom unified disparate smaller kingdoms of Katmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur—all within a few miles of each other. The architectural archaeology of this cultural history is  particularly rich and is evidenced by the exquisite durbars or courtly public squares of these three capitals in the valley.

Durbar Square in Bhaktapur

Durbar Square in Bhaktapur

The characteristic local architectural innovation was the use of intricately carved wood incorporated into brick structures as windows, walls, roofs, doors and decorative features. It’s a juxtaposition that was practically successful and aesthetically pleasing. We marvel at the Buddhist temple pagodas, the kingly residences, and other public buildings conceived of in this style.

Yet Another Pagoda in Bhaktapur

Another pagoda in Bhaktapur

We stay at Dwarika’s hotel—conceived of by its founder in the same way. So the legend goes, as a young man Dwarika Das Shrestha, born of a relatively wealthy Nepali family and trained in law and business, saw some carpenters sawing up pieces of carved wood retrieved from a historic Nepali structure. They were trying to salvage reusable wood, and intended to use the historic carvings for firewood. Retrieving the piece kindled a lifelong quest in Dwarika, and he became a collector of Nepali antiquities, particularly carved wood. Having started a guest house for pilgrims in the early 1950s, this expanded into a hotel that incorporated the wood carved doors, walls, and windows into its design. This project grew into a hotel of exquisite character and proportion employing and training hundreds of carpenters and artisans and helping revive this important Nepali crafts.  Now the hotel is widely recognized as an exemplary “heritage hotel.” All its features, from the courtyards, sculptures and water fountain, to the lobby, hallway and room furnishing and decorations are in local style. The hotel not only provides us a hospitable and engaging stay, but is itself a living, functioning, three-dimensional textbook about the preservation of Nepal’s cultural heritage.

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Find more information about our Around the World Private Jet trips here.

Read Dr. Kurin’s previous dispatch from Vietnam: “Ha Long Bay and Hanoi: Around the World with Dr. Richard Kurin”

Ha Long Bay and Hanoi: Around the World with Dr. Richard Kurin

Friday, March 29th, 2013

richard-kurinDr. Richard Kurin serves as the Smithsonian Institution’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture with responsibility for most of its museums including the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Freer and Sackler Galleries, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Anacostia Community Museum, the National Museum of African Art, the National Postal Museum, and others including the soon to be built National Museum of African American History and Culture. He also oversees research and outreach programs, including the Smithsonian’s Traveling Exhibition Service, The Smithsonian Associates, the Smithsonian Channel, and the Smithsonian Affiliates—a network of 168 museums across the U.S. Read More»

Dr. Kurin is currently leading a group on an around-the-world tour of some of the world’s extraordinary cultures and will be sending regular updates from abroad. Come back regularly to follow along!

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Dispatch #4: Ha Long Bay and Hanoi

“Long” is the Vietnamese word for dragon, and the limestone outcroppings, resembling the curved undulations of the mythical creature give this amazing bay its name. Indeed, cruising around Ha Long Bay takes on the character of a legendary odyssey, as peaks and caves, sometimes shrouded by fog and revealed by the lifting mist suggest a primeval time and place. Yet, here and there, are small floating villages, with one-room schools, and even wi-fi, people catching fish for market, and serving a burgeoning tourist industry of cruise boats—or “junks” as they are called.

Rowing along the Ha Long River

Rowing along the Ha Long River

Members of our group watched the scenery unfold aboard our comfortable ships—nice cabins, dining rooms and decks, and ever polite staff. Every few hours we were off to another section of this immense waterway. Some ventured on kayaks, others in row boats to go exploring inlets and geological features. Most went exploring into the marvelous caves, carved out of the limestone. “Surprise Cave” was indeed stunning, a massive network of three caves now joined together with cathedral-like splendor and an awe-inspiring nature. Its designation as part of a World Heritage Site and as one of the seven wonders of the natural world is well-deserved.  The shapes and natural tableaux, the muted though fascinating colors of the cave—and its sheer size—all entranced our travelers.

"Surprise Cave"

“Surprise Cave,” a World Heritage Site

Our two days on the bay included hosting a group of bay-resident school kids, who were adorable and gave us a sampling of their singing. One of our groups returned the favor with “I’m a Little Teapot,” another with “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” and still another with “Goodbye, Farewell.” If our performance faltered it was not from lack of trying and the feelings were heartfelt. Later, some of us got into a discussion of what best constitutes America’s “national song,” with the “Star-Spangled Banner,” “America the Beautiful,” and “This Land is Your Land” the favorite nominees. One wonders whether these perennials will endure in ensuing generations.

The travelers' buffet on their ship.

The travelers’ buffet on their ship

We enjoyed the delicious Vietnamese food aboard the ship—the nation’s mainstay Pho (pronounced fuh) a soup broth with rice noodles and choices of beef, chicken, onions, chilies with an optional squeeze of lemon proved popular. But so did tiger prawns, various rice and noodle combinations, and local vegetables. Dragon fruit, papaya and regionally grown apples made for tasty fresh desserts. We even learned to make fresh and fried spring rolls, and had a nighttime toast of rice wine.  The ubiquity of rice on the menu mirrors the landscape of Vietnam’s plains in the north and the Mekong Delta in the south—green rice fields for as far as the eye can see. The warmer south sustains three rice crops annually—the colder north two, we are told.

Evening Entertainment

Evening entertainment

In the evening, we entered another decorated cave for a sumptuous dinner featuring local sea food, with clams, oysters, crabs, prawns and other delights. A young and energetic women’s band entertained with a selection of contemporary Vietnamese, American and Karaoke. The xylophonist was really talented, and I thought of her performing with Mickey Hart—she was that good.

A Tai Chi class marked our final morning in the bay. A waitress on board was our instructor, and her grace was astounding as she put us through our stretching paces. This was calisthenics artfully done. Cousin to forms of martial art, and originally, I believe, derived from the yogic practices of Buddhist monks, the movements could just as well be dance steps and poses. At breakfast, as I saw my instructor serve coffee and clean tables I smiled at two things; one, registering how in her seemingly utilitarian tasks she mirrored the Tai Chi movements, and two, how you never know who can teach you something new.

Off to Hanoi, our travelers split up—seeing museums, visiting the market, and among other sites the “Hanoi Hilton” which housed captured American GIs during the Vietnam War. Some visited with heavy hearts, either having served in the war, or having friends and relatives who did.

The changes in Vietnam since that time are huge. While perhaps officially a socialist country, shops, markets, entrepreneurship, business competition, and the building of private homes abound. Foreign owned factories along the main highway proliferate. While flags proclaiming communist rule still flutter in the wind, the place, at least at the level of individual thought, talk and action seems quite open and free.

An evening at the Museum of Ethnology ends our visit. We enjoy a performance of traditional water puppetry with musical and pyrotechnical accompaniment. We are joined by the U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear who clearly explains our nation’s current relationship with Vietnam and provides insight as to his mission here. The Smithsonian has worked closely with the museum over the past decades, and I miss the founding director Dr. Huy who had been called out of town unexpectedly. I’d worked with Huy on programs for the Smithsonian Foklife Festival and on researching the regions culture and traditions.  Fortunately I also worked with his successor, director Trong, and he gives a nice introduction to the group about the museum, which is translated from the Vietnamese to English. A Vietnamese meal accompanied by a musical serenade and a cool breeze makes our gathering even more memorable.

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Find more information about our Around the World Private Jet trips here.

Read Dr. Kurin’s previous dispatch from Bali: Bali High: Around the World with Dr. Richard Kurin”

Bali High: Around the World with Dr. Richard Kurin

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

richard-kurinDr. Richard Kurin serves as the Smithsonian Institution’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture with responsibility for most of its museums including the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Freer and Sackler Galleries, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Anacostia Community Museum, the National Museum of African Art, the National Postal Museum, and others including the soon to be built National Museum of African American History and Culture. He also oversees research and outreach programs, including the Smithsonian’s Traveling Exhibition Service, The Smithsonian Associates, the Smithsonian Channel, and the Smithsonian Affiliates—a network of 168 museums across the U.S. Read More»

Dr. Kurin is currently leading a group on an around-the-world tour of some of the world’s extraordinary cultures and will be sending regular updates from abroad. Come back regularly to follow along!

***

Dispatch #3: Bali High

Bali is special. Think of the island as one big cultural festival of art, performance, architecture and ritual. Everywhere, everybody seems intent on turning everyday experiences into an artistic activity. Every house has a temple marking a daily connection to a rich, eclectic form of Balinese Hinduism. Women weaving, men carvings stone, villagers gathering for a temple festival with leaf sculptures, decorative cloths, food offerings, and a gamelan (gong, xylophone and drum) orchestra. Dance dramas abound—whether recreating scenes from ancient India’s classic Ramayana to Bali’s own indigenous Rangda and Barong masked dance.

Our group settled in Ubud, Bali’s artistic village, at two fantastic hotels—with spacious villas, private pools, and inspiring views of Bali’s rich, tropical, well-forested fertile landscape. Some of our travelers rode elephants, while others rafted down the Ayung River, bounding along the white water rapids. Most visited a butterfly farm, the Batukaru temple up in the mountains, and then visited a local school.

The butterfly farm proved especially interesting. A tremendous variety of Balinese butterflies are bred there—many with interesting colors and patterns and sizes—the larger ones as big as the span of an outstretched hand. We also saw adaptations of beetles and grasshoppers and other critters that mimicked various branches, leaves and other plant parts apparently to avoid predators.

Smithsonian travelers visit the Batukaru temple

Smithsonian travelers visit the Batukaru temple

At the temple we saw Brahmin priests—albeit on a lunch break in the sacred sanctuary of the temple that houses the sculptures of deities. Village women were weaving temple decorations from palm and leaves, while Balinese visitors were making offerings, some after having ended the grieving period for dead family members. Wearing a sarong is mandatory for those visiting the temple—our group included, and we did the best we could—looking like a somewhat rag-tag bunch, but nonetheless one respectful of local tradition.

Women at the Temple

Women at the Batukaru temple weaving decorations

Smithsonian travelers enjoy an open-air ride around town

Smithsonian travelers enjoy an open-air ride around town

After the temple it was off for an open air ride in Volkswagen 4-seaters up and over the ridge to another valley and Jatiluwih where we visited an elementary school. Teachers greeted us with huge garlands formed of scores of giant marigolds as young boys played in a gamelan orchestra and the school girls danced. One of our group wisely noted that the gamelan orchestra is kind of like Mickey Hart’s drum circle, with people playing percussion instruments and finding their harmony and rhythm. We distributed backpacks filled with books and school supplies to the school’s 150 students—part of the travel program’s philanthropic side.

Smithsonian travelers at a Balinese school

Smithsonian travelers at a Balinese school

An evening program started with a welcome greeting by Don Washington, the public affairs officer at the U.S embassy in Jakarta and a talk by I Wayan Dibia, a native Balinese dancer, choreographer, and professor, who earned a PhD in ethnomusicology decades ago at UCLA with support of a Fulbright fellowship. Dibia, Don, and I worked together on a Festival of Indonesia program in 1991 that brought more than 100 Indonesia artists to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. It was a lovely reunion, and demonstrated how links between the Smithsonian, the State Department, American institutions, and local ones—in this case Balinese, help build important relationships for educational purposes—and help make friends around the world too!

The finale was a dance performance by a Balinese group in an over-the-top setting at the hotel. Led by torch bearers, we entered a Balinese outdoor courtyard with characteristic architecture and friezes, lit up with lights and a bright spring moon. We enjoyed a lovely meal and a colorful dance performance.

While Kyoto’s pavilions and gardens, and Nara’s temple represented oases of peacefulness, contemplation, and traditional culture in the midst of a sprawling industrial society, Bali by contrast, save for its capital Denpasar, is still mostly rural, and still offers an abundant and almost sensually overwhelming canvas of local cultural expression. Though there are many changes since I first visited Bali some four decades ago, it is reassuring to see how local culture is flourishing in both traditional and contemporary ways.

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Find more information about our Around the World Private Jet trips here.

Read Dr. Kurin’s previous dispatch from Japan: Connecting in Kyoto: Around the World with Dr. Richard Kurin”

Connecting in Kyoto: Around the World with Dr. Richard Kurin

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

richard-kurinDr. Richard Kurin serves as the Smithsonian Institution’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture with responsibility for most of its museums including the National Museum of American History, the National Museum of the American Indian, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, the Freer and Sackler Galleries, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Anacostia Community Museum, the National Museum of African Art, the National Postal Museum, and others including the soon to be built National Museum of African American History and Culture. He also oversees research and outreach programs, including the Smithsonian’s Traveling Exhibition Service, The Smithsonian Associates, the Smithsonian Channel, and the Smithsonian Affiliates—a network of 168 museums across the U.S. Read More»

Dr. Kurin is currently leading a group on an around-the-world tour of some of the world’s extraordinary cultures and will be sending regular updates from abroad. Come back regularly to follow along!

***

Dispatch #2: Connecting in Kyoto

Arriving in Osaka, you quickly get a sense of the huge and quick growth of this port-city metropolis. As we made our way toward Kyoto, the factories, houses, and office buildings seemed to go on forever across the landscape. We arrived in Kyoto on the spring equinox, just ahead of the cherry blossoms—though some were just blossoming.

The group heads to the Todaji Temple

The group heads to the Todaji Temple

It was a holiday in Japan, a time when families visit Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, honor ancestors, and make their wishes for a good year ahead. Japan combines Buddhist tradition—derived from Indian origins and Chinese versions, with indigenous Shinto beliefs about nature—that trees, rivers and streams, and mountains are alive with their own spirits. The Japanese have formed a variety of philosophies in a quest for harmony, order, and connection—with the universe and to each other. This was apparent in places we visited—like roadside and garden shrines, in a meditative Zen Buddhist rock garden, and at the Todaji temple of the great Buddha in Nara. Rather than doctrinaire belief, we saw ritual eclecticism in action, with people making offerings, lighting incense, contemplating the landscape—and also taking delight on temple grounds.

The Golden Pavilion

The Golden Pavilion

Visiting Kyoto’s Kinkakuji Temple or the renowned Golden Pavilion was a treat and one of the places that makes the city’s temples and shrines a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is the former retreat of a Shogun ruler, and its gold façade reflected in a moat-like pond set within a lovely landscaped garden is impressive to behold. Several of our group became more than tourists as they were surrounded by Japanese students who apparently had the task of interviewing Americans as a school assignment over the holiday to practice their English. Kindheartedly, our folks responded, tutoring the students as they filled out their interview questionnaires.

Smithsonian travelers get interviewed by Japanese students.

Japanese students interview Smithsonian travelers

The visit to Nara’s Gate and Todaji Temple—also a World Heritage Site, was particularly poignant to me, as I’d done a good deal of work with musician Yo-Yo Ma, designer Rajeev Sethi, scholars Ted Levin, Henry Glassie and many others in putting together a program on the Silk Road in 2002.  We brought more than 500 artists from 28 countries to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall that summer—and their performances and artistry was witnessed by almost 1.5 million people over a two-week period. We’d built a replica of the Nara Gate on the Mall, as Nara represented the eastern terminus of the Silk Road—a vast network of trade routes and relationships joining East and West. Items from Central Asia have been found at Nara, indicating the flow of goods and a connection thousands of miles long stretching back to the 8th century A.D. Now, standing at the Nara Gate, I had to take a breath in the shadow of this magnificent, awesome structure. The temple itself is amongst the largest wooden structures in the world, and houses a Buddha 80 feet high. While a religious site, this was also a shrine to the movement of ideas and goods across geographic and cultural boundaries.

Smithsonian Travelers try Bunraku

Smithsonian travelers try Bunraku

Our group crossed more boundaries at a superb evening performance. Gregory Kay from the U.S. Consulate provided a warm welcome. I had asked Noriko Aikawa, a Japanese heritage specialist now retired from her position as a director of UNESCO’s cultural program, to arrange for a bunraku demonstration. Bunraku is a narrative, story telling and puppetry tradition centered in Kyoto and Osaka. It grew in the 1600s, and its plays are essentially morality tales, with drama provided by puppets portraying townspeople, samurai, lovers and so on. The puppets are four to six feet tall and elaborately decorated. Made of hollowed out cypress, they are operated by an articulated system of levers and internal strings—and so great is the sophistication of their movement and expression of emotion that it takes three puppeteers to operate one puppet. The puppeteers showed us the ins and outs of the artistry and engineering, and then had three members of our group come up and learn from them. It was a beautiful moment; the Japanese artists were excellent teachers—every one of us got a sense of the skill and training needed to perfect this long-lived art. And our Smithsonian Journeys folks did well—to the acclaim of their fellow travelers!

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Find more information about our Around the World Private Jet trips here.

Read Dr. Kurin’s previous dispatch from Seattle: “Beginning with a Big Bang: Around the World with Dr. Richard Kurin”