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Japanese Art to Dominate National Gallery

October 29, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ 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 - is taking over much of the National Gallery of Art for the next three months.

The ink and color portrait on a hanging silk scroll is of Minamoto Yoritomo, the first of the shoguns - military generals - who ruled Japan in the emperor’s name from 1185 until the great changes in Japanese society following the arrival of the first American fleet in 1859.

One of 550 Japanese-owned works of art in the exhibit opening here Sunday, the anonymous portrait of Yoritomo is designated a ″national treasure″ in Japan. J. Carter Brown, the National Gallery’s director, called it ″the Mona Lisa of Japanese art.″

While Yoritomo was characterized in medieval military chronicles as a brutal, ruthless warrior, the portrait of him attired in a formal silk robe sitted on a mat represents him as courtly figure.

Jumpei Kato, managing director of the Japan Foundation, said Yoritomo, despite his reputation as a warrior, led a subdued personal life.

″He had no concubines -- he was too afraid of his wife,″ Kato said.

Brown sees the exhibit, which has been five years in preparation, 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,″ he said.

The final arrangments for bringing the exhibit to Washington were made at a Tokyo conference of President Reagan and former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone.

The exhibit includes paintings, sculpture, screens, scrolls, ceramics, textiles, door panels, swords, saddles, armor and other objects usually associated with such showings.

But the National Gallery also has built a stage in the main hall of its East Building for the presentation of elaborately costumed Noh - ″talent″ translated in English - dramas, the oldest form of professional theater in Japan, dating back more than 500 years.

The exhibit also includes a replica of a Japanese tea house, the small thatched structures where members of the fuedal military heirarchy engaged in a highly cultivated ritual of giving and receiving tea as an act of social communion.

During the exhibit, the huge metal mobile by American artist Alexander Calder that normally swings from the ceiling and dominates the East Hall, has been temporarily removed. Ruth Kaplan, a gallery spokeswoman, said the mobile is being cleaned and would not have interfered with the Japanese exhibit.

The exhibit is expected to attract several visitors from Japan, partly because the the elaborately but rarely staged Noh dramas there and the gathering of so many other pieces of Japanese art into one show.

So many American visitors are expected that the gallery has set up a system of reserving tickets for specific days and hours. The tickets are free.

The show is called ″Japan: the Shaping of Daimyo Culture 1185-1868.″ The daimyo were the great feudal lords who ruled Japan under the shoguns. The exhibit will be on view until Jan. 23. It will not travel to any other city.

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