Sisterly Show Offers Taste of Japan

When state Sen. John Seymour was mayor of Anaheim from 1978 to 1982, his political counterpart in Mito, Japan, gave him the perfect accessory for political battle: a full-size replica of samurai armor complete with fierce-looking helmet and faceplate.

The armor, along with dozens of pieces of Japanese art and memorabilia, is on public display in the Anaheim Museum’s “Mito: Anaheim’s Sister City,” an eclectic mix of upscale souvenirs and bona fide treasures given to members of Anaheim’s Sister City Committee by Mito delegates since the two cities became linked 12 years ago.

Coordinated by Herbert E. Pruett, museum director, and June Lowry, Anaheim Sister City Committee president, the exhibit continues through April 16.

Located 60 miles northeast of Tokyo, Mito has a lengthy history, to say the least: Archeological findings in the area date to the Stone Age. Its rulers included members of the Yamato Clan in about AD 500 and the Tokugawa Clan in the early 1600s. Mito City was established formally in 1889, suffered heavy damages in a World War II air raid in 1945 and today has a population of more than 200,000.


The Anaheim/Mito relationship started to develop in the ‘70s when a member of the Mito City Council had a brother who lived in Anaheim. Correspondence between the communities revealed that they were similar in size and that each ranked education as a priority. The link became official in December of 1976.

Among the results of sister cityhood: an annual exchange of delegates that Lowry says “let’s us get to know each other on a one-to-one basis . . . and understand not only each other’s culture but why we think and react in different ways.”

The opening of “Mito: Anaheim’s Sister City” in November dovetailed with the arrival of the 1988 delegation from Mito, which included Mayor Kazunobu Sagawa, businessman/philanthropist Yuichi Hataya and local citizens. Hataya, chairman of Mito’s Sister City program, donated $50,000 to the Anaheim Museum in October and has pledged an additional $50,000 to be paid over the next 5 years.

The strong Japanese tradition of gift giving is also shown in the exhibit itself--items range from a luxurious wedding kimono and a delicate hakata doll to handmade ceramic plates and ceremonial lanterns.

The samurai armor is one of the most impressive pieces in the show; it is composed of hundreds of tiny, decorated metal plates laid over heavy amber and orange brocade. Broad, armored epaulets protect the shoulders. The faceplate sports an evil grimace and (in case the wearer is lacking his own) a dark, sinister-looking mustache.

“The samurai is a warrior, similar to the knights of medieval times,” Lowry explained. “They fight for the shogun, who you might compare to a lord. In Mito, you can still see one of the original shogun summer palaces.” The armor featured in the exhibit, made as a collectible item, is typical of the kind worn by samurai during the feudal period, Lorsy said.

Displayed against a stark black wall in the gallery is the traditional wedding kimono, with shimmering red, green and yellow flowers on a quilted, emerald satin background. A large hanayome ningyo, or bridal doll, depicts the complete nuptial outfit topped off by the white, boxlike tauno kakushi headpiece, which, according to Japanese custom, serves as a hiding place for a woman’s jealousy during the ceremony.

Dolls enjoy an elevated status in Japan, and those displayed at the Mito show constitute something of a primer in Japanese art and culture. They include the contemporary clay hakata child-doll (a style designated in 1976 by the Japanese government as a national art); several colorful “paddle board” or “flat” dolls, commonly carried in parades or celebrations, and a graceful porcelain-faced geisha.

“The geisha is different from what most people think,” Lowry said. “She is a hostess and entertainer, not . . . a prostitute. A geisha would typically entertain at a dinner, dancing or singing or playing musical instruments, but that’s as far as it goes. It’s a great honor to be a geisha and requires years of special training.”

Traditional Japanese theater is also represented. A ceremonial kite and a silk wall hanging depict costumed Kabuki actors in scenes from traditional noh plays, and a couple of chubby-cheeked noh masks smile smugly on a back wall.

“Only men may become Kabuki,” Lowry said. “It’s a highly prestigious position, and in order to become well-known, you actually have to apprentice to another successful actor. An established Kabuki will portray the same characters for years, and when he retires he hands down that role to a selected person.”

Other items in the show include a delicate ceremonial tea set, decorative fans, miniature samurai helmets, hand-carved wood statuettes and a tiny lacquerware reproduction of a gyusha , an ox-drawn cart used during the Heian Period (AD 785 to 1185) to carry members of the royal family.

“Mito : Anaheim’s Sister City” continues through April 16 at the Anaheim Museum, 241 S. Anaheim Blvd. Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is free, but a $1.50 donation from adults is suggested. Information: (714) 778-3301.