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Standing as an intriguing counterpoint to current trends, a massive show of some 550 pieces of art from Japan settled into Washington's National Gallery on Sunday for a three-month stint. Billed as the biggest show of artistic treasure ever to leave Japan--including a 700-year-old portrait that is the nation's equivalent to the Mona Lisa--"Japan: the Shaping of Daimyo Culture 1185-1868" is being seen as a way to help bridge the gap between the civilizations of the two countries. "These days there is no country more important than Japan to the United States," said gallery director J. Carter Brown. The exhibit includes the paintings, sculpture, screens, scrolls, ceramics, textiles and other objects, but it also includes presentations of elaborately costumed Noh dramas, the oldest form of professional theater in Japan, dating back more than 500 years. Washington is the show's only stop.

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