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Avatars of the Samurai Spirit coming to Morikami

Momotaro Group, part of the Musha-Ningyō exhibit coming to the Morikami Museum. [Photos by Alan Scott Pate]

The Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens will exhibit warrior dolls in “Musha-Ningyō: Avatars of the Samurai Spirit” from April 27 to Oct. 6.


During Japan’s Edo Period (1603-1868), a tradition of showcasing dolls to ward off illness during the annual Boy’s Day Festival evolved to include the display of musha-ningyō, or warrior dolls. Reflecting the emergence of Japan’s warrior class, the dolls represented virtues such as bravery, loyalty and selflessness and were crafted in the likeness of historical and mythical figures with armor and helmets.

Kato Kiyomasa

After World War II, the Boy’s Day Festival was renamed Kodomo no Hi, or Children’s Day, to be more inclusive and eventually became a national holiday.


The Morikami exhibit will showcase more than 50 musha-ningyō collected from private sources. Renowned doll artists from the 19th and 20th centuries drew inspiration from Japan’s rich martial heritage in meticulously crafting these effigies.


The dolls include Empress Jingū, a celebrated shaman and interpreter of dreams; Toyotomi Hideyoshi, esteemed as Japan’s second “Great Unifier”; Kato Kiyomasa, known as “The Devil General”; Minamoto Yormasu, celebrated as an archer and monster-style slayer; and Kintarō and Momotarō, depicted as two youths possessing extraordinary strength.

Art dealer and academic Alan Scott Pate, an expert on historical Japanese dolls, is curating the exhibit. He will speak about the warrior dolls Friday, April 26, at 1 p.m. The lecture is included with paid museum entry.


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