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Six Smithsonian shows fete National Cherry Blossom Fest Mar. 20-Apr. 13

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The Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery celebrate Washington's National Cherry Blossom Festival March 20-April 13 with six Japanese art exhibits and many related events.

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The six free exhibits offer a wide range of Japanese fine arts, including the first public display of Hiroshige's (1797–1858) "Large Fish" series of 20 woodblock prints; centuries of Japanese tea culture; and the modernization of Tokyo in the 19th century.

Hiroshige's "Large Fish" woodblocks are the highlight of the newly opened "Bountiful Waters" exhibit. It also features prints, paintings, illustrated books, and ceramics that depict Japanese appreciation for the beauty and variety of fish and other species. This display at the Freer continues through Sept. 14.

This exhibit recreates the world of 16th-century Japan chanoyu ("art of tea"). Its focal point is an ordinary storage jar -- from China -- that is one of the most revered objects of this Japanese tea tradition.

Far more than a jar, it serves as a major contribution to understanding Japanese aesthetics, history, and culture.

The jar has not only a name, "Chigusa" ("myriad of flowers", mentioned in at least five Japanese poems), but also centuries of diaries about it, written by generations of connoisseurs called "tea men". The exhibit at the Sackler continues through July 27.

On Sept. 3, 1868, Japan’s new rulers changed the capital's name from Edo to Tokyo ("Eastern Capital"). Tokyo became the primary experiment in a national drive toward modernization. The exhibit "Kiyochika: Master of the Night" shows the Edo-Tokyo radical transformation in the 19th century. It's from the perspective of master woodblock printer Kobiyashi Kiyochika (1847–1915).

Self-trained as an artist, his prints "were unlike anything previously produced by a Japanese artist," the Sackler says. "Avoiding the colorful and celebratory cityscapes of traditional woodblock prints, Kiyochika focused on light and its effects. Dawn, dusk, and night were his primary moments of observation, and his subjects—both old and new—are veiled in sharply angled light, shadows, and darkness." This exhibit will be at the Sackler March 29 through July 27.

Also on view are exhibits showcasing lush Japanese screens of landscapes and waterscapes, Chinese ceramics used in Japanese tea culture, and Japanese religious paintings.

The free events include:

-- ImaginAsia: Explore how gaslights and electricity transformed the night in the 19th century. Examine the content, mood, and techniques used in paintings and woodblock prints of Kiyochika’s Tokyo (and also Whistler’s London). In the Sackler classroom, use black backgrounds, paper cutouts, oil and chalk pastels, and wax gilt to create nightscapes of favorite outdoor evening activities.

ImaginAsia programs are for eight- to 14-year-olds and their adult companions.

-- Vintage kimono trunk show. Presented by Kyoto Kimono, this shopping event includes vintage kimono, haori jackets, obi, home decorations, and fashion accessories created from one-of-a-kind vintage Japanese garments and textiles. Kyoto Kimono owner Nancy McDonough will demonstrate how to wear and care for kimono.

-- "It’s Me, It’s Me" (trailer)

This comedy won the audience award at the 2013 Udine (Italy) Far East Film Festival. Kazuya Kamenashi, star of the J-Pop boy band KAT-TUN, portrays 33 different characters.

-- "Adrift in Tokyo" (trailer).

"A brilliant ode to the city’s street life and eccentric denizens," says the Freer.

  • Taiko drumming and dance performance by Toyko's top-ranking Tamagawa University troupe.

Other events are concerts by Japanese artists, including young Japanese violinist Mayuko Kamio, a recent gold medalist at the International Tchaikovsky Competition -- "The New York Times" termed her "a radiant talent" --plus curator conversations.

Thinking of cherry blossoms and these exhibits helps warm and brighten Washington's frigid weather.

For further info: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, asia.si.edu/cherryblossom, on the National Mall. Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Avenue, S.W., and the adjacent Freer Gallery of Art, 12th Street and Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C. 202-633-1000. National Cherry Blossom Festival.

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