Dresses made of Kimono fabric at Izu Glass & Craft Museum
I first read James Clavell’s Shogun more than 20 years ago, so I’m rereading it out of curiosity, now that I know much more about Japanese history than I did back then. I’ve finished about one-third of the hefty novel’s 1,000-some pages, and I still find it fascinating for its depiction of life in Japan at the brink of the Edo Period. Its fictional characters are loosely based on real people and real events, including Englishman William Adams, who shipwrecked on Japan’s coast in 1600. Captured by local villagers and turned over to Tokugawa Ieyasu-the man who would become shogun-Adams went on to build Japan’s first western-style sailing ship in a village called Ito, on Izu Peninsula’s east coast. Adopting the Japanese name Miura Anjin-san and marrying a Japanese, this first Englishman ever to reach Japan remained in his adopted country for the rest of his life. I was in Ito a few months ago. It’s a pretty hamlet, hemmed in on one side by steeply wooded mountains and on the other side by the rocky Jogasaki Coast. Blessed with abundant hot springs and a pleasant beach, it has a lush, tropical atmosphere, with palm trees and flowering bushes that come as a surprise so close to Tokyo, less than two hours away. But what makes this town of 75,000 inhabitants especially unique is its astonishing number of private museums-more than 30 of them. I don’t think I could come up with a more bizarre collection of museums even if I tried.
Izu’s famous Jogasaki Coast
I love going to museums, and one of the oldest and most well known in Ito is the Ikeda Museum of 20th Century Art, which opened in 1975 and boasts an impressive collection of mostly Western artists, including Warhol, Picasso, Renior, Willem de Kooning, Miro, Kokoschka, Matisse, and Chagall.
Warhol’s Marilyn at Ikeda Museum
My personal favorite is probably the Izu Glass & Craft Museum, with an exquisite collection of Art Nouveau and Art Deco decorative arts, including figurines, vases, perfume bottles, jewelry and more by artists like Galle, Lalique, Tiffany, Erte, and Daum. All were influenced by the Japonism craze that swept through the Western world in the late 19th century, apparent in the frequent use of dragonflies, water lilies, orchids, and other Asian motifs. Van Gogh produced several paintings that closely mirror Japanese woodblock artists like Utagawa Hiroshige, Galle used one of Japanese illustrator Hokusai’s carp drawings for his relief of a carp in a glass vase, and Vuitton’s famous monograms are said to resemble crests used by Japanese feudal clans. The museum also exhibits Western clothes that show strong Japanese influences, such as cocktail dresses made from the cloth of a kimono.
Izu Glass & Craft Museum
Art lovers can also take in the Izu Lake Ippeki Museum with works by Jean-Pierre Cassigneaul, the Izu Kogen Ceramic Glass Art Museum with Chinese works, the Izu Lake Ippeki Museum of Perfume with early-20th-century American and European perfume bottles, the Bohemian Glass Museum, the Brian Wild Smith Museum with original pictures and books including Mother Goose, the African Art Gallery, and the Antique Jewelry Museum with Victorian brooches, rings, and more.
There are also special-interest museums galore, including those dedicated to the teddy bear, dolls, music boxes and automatic musical instruments, stained glass, antique clocks, ammonites, cats, bird carvings, antique tin toys, clocks, and angels. There’s a wax museum sporting the likenesses of the Beatles, Charlie Chaplin, presidents Lincoln and Clinton, Jesus and his apostles at the last supper, the Japanese Imperial family, former prime minister Koizumi, and baseball star Suzuki Ichiro.
But the weirdest museum of them all has to be the Ayashi Shonen Shojo Hakubutsukan, which translates loosely as the Mysterious Boys and Girls Museum. With a name like that, how could you not go? It’s packed to the rafters with a zillion items relating to Japanese and Western pop culture, including toys from World War II to the present, a Godzilla collection, clothing, sports memorabilia, album covers (from the Monkeys to Elvis), games, Marilyn Monroe dolls, oddities like a two-headed calf, dolls with a penchant for bondage and S&M (I am not making this up), and a house of horrors that is more grotesque than anything I have ever seen.
Mysterious Boys & Girls Museum
All of which brings me back, in a roundabout way, to Shogun. Back in the days of William Adams and Shogun Tokugawa, it was fear of Western imperialism that prompted the shogunate government to outlaw the Christian religion and close Japan’s doors to outsiders for more than 250 years. Obviously, the ploy didn’t work in the long run, and global cultural exchange is so prevalent, that no one thinks twice about ordering sushi in Kansas or the ironic fact that almost all of Ito’s museums house collections of things Western.
As for Anjin-san, there’s a memorial dedicated to him at the mouth of Ito’s Matsukawa River, not far from where Adams built his ships. You can’t help but wonder what he or Tokugawa would think, if they came back to Japan today.