Sunday, October 25, 2009


Sometimes when living abroad, there are turns of events that are so surprising it is hard to not laugh out of amazement from the coincidences. The other day, as Michał and I were overlooking the beautiful Vistula river bank from the high walls of Wawel castle, I pointed from across the river to a very unique building that caught my eye. The building seemed very modern and artistic with glass, a wavy roof reminiscent of the rippling river beside it, and tones of the silver metal against the light wood planks. I asked what the building was and Michał matter-of-factly responded: it is the Japanese museum here in Poland.

The what?

Yeah, it is a museum with Japanese art and culture.

But… why? Are there a lot of Japanese people here in Kraków that I don’t know about? [imagine a pierogi shop right next door to an authentic little Tokyo block… heaven!]

Michał laughed at this. I guess the thought of a Japanese person in Kraków was just as surprising to me seeing a Japanese cultural museum right across from the most famous castle in Poland. [or maybe he was thinking what it would be like to hear a Japanese person speak polish… I would even like to hear how that would go!]

The other day, after our little excursion squealing away on the go-karts [ I smelled my sweater and actually fumed of burnt rubber! ] Michał was wondering what to do next – hey, Manggha is just across the street!

Now I was never anticipating to have any encounters with Japanese things in Poland, but I couldn’t pass up the unique opportunity. The architecture was modern, and walking into the front vestibule looking out the complete glass wall with the large patio looking out the beautiful Vistula river and Wawel castle I was truly amazed – really?! This prime location is a Japanese museum of all things. I was loving it, but the entire concept still baffled me.

Getting our exhibit tickets, I came to find out the roots of the museum. Alongside being the only building of its kind in Europe serving as a museum and cultural hub of Japanese culture, the exhibits contain the treasures and art pieces brought back as gifts by Felix “Manggha” Jasieński. He was one of the leaders of a movement in Poland – I had never heard of something like this – of artists traveling to Japan in the 19 and early 20th centuries to study Japanese artistic practices. Manggha, the nickname given to Felix Jasieński, was in relation to his passion for the artworks of “sketched art / whimsical art” or the Japanese word manga , ,[re-written with its French phonetics as Manggha], hence the name of the museum [ and yes, for those that know Japanese comics, Manga comics evolved from this type of artistic style]. Manggha is considered to be the main figure in this “Polish-Japonism” movement.

Just in my little introduction to find out why this museum even existed – seeing words in Polish, English, Japanese, French… - I felt a little mixed up, making me only imagine what these exploring artists felt like trying to create links between these cultures and artistic styles.

The museum itself was great – dark wood floors and exhibit cases, with spotlights on priceless Japanese calligraphy pieces, kimono, pottery and other woodblock prints. Everything was very Japanese oriented, but it was the little details in the museum that excited me about just how cool the museum was. Probably unnoticed to the average museum-goer, the simple fact of seeing the exhibits headed with Polish language and then in Japanese language was a little bit of nostalgia for me.

It was like freshman year at the University of Michigan having Polish class with Pani Ewa from 1-2pm on the 4th floor of Angel hall, and immediately rushing to the the 1st floor for my 2-3 recitation with Ujihara Sensei for Japanese [call me crazy – and yes, I did accidentally say Dzień dobry once … but with a Japanese accent… that is what happens when two parts of your brain are working at once…]

Another little surprise in the museum was a back corner with very pretty earthenware pottery – to which I told Michał that the area of Japan that I lived was very well known for this type of craftsmanship. True to be told, and leading me to practically smoosh my face against the glass in disbelief reading the little title cards on the art, was the fact that some of the pots not only came from South Japan… but from Nabeshima!? That was where I lived right in Saga with the Kai family – more surprises for the day.

My favorite part of the museum was the central isle of the exhibit since it successfully collaborated Polish art side by side with Japanese art. This was fascinating because, whereas the art has little similarities on the surface– Japanese woodprints side by side with very textured, thick brush-stroked Polish paintings – reading the inspirations and the philosophies behind the art brought the connections to life. In brief, Polish artists shared a deep fascination with the simplicity of Japanese art, to create an image that was not busy, and seemingly empty and unfinished in parts, to truly capture a more complete interpretation of the beauty and life of the nature and people of the society. The colors were inspired, as well as the angles, and even interpretation of lines and detail – really perspectives I had never thought about.

Emphasizing the importance of these artistic influences were quotes that were engraved into the walls around the art pieces. These observations of the importance of new perspective and inspiration in Polish art, I feel, says a lot about the mindset of the people, and the overall pride of Poland being a unique land and culture.

Pokazałem wam Japonię żeby was nauczyć myśleć o Polsce, na wzór artystów, którzy przez dwa tysiące lat po japońsku o Japonii myśleli…

I have shown you Japan to teach you about Poland, after the pattern of artists who thought about Japan in a Japanese way…

F. Jasieński “ Z deszczu pod rynnę”

The Manggha museum was a very cool experience for me – there were beautiful exhibits inside and it successfully held a lot of nostalgia for me personally [ I definitely wasn’t expecting to be comparing Poland and Japan while visiting Kraków, that is for sure! ]. Japanese art, Polish history, seeing both languages that I find so beautiful side by side – it was truly a surprise for me seeing this museum in Kraków, but sometimes I think that it is these connections that make traveling and exploring that much more exciting.

Muzeum Japoński w Krakowie – to najlepsza lekcja poglądowa dla polskich artystów i polskiego społeczeństwa: tak u siebie, dla siebie po swojemu tworzić tzreba tak szuki potrzebować, tak ją kochać, tak jej twórców czcić.

A Japanese museum in Kraków – this is the best lesson for Polish artists and Polish society; This is how we should create art in our own land, for ourselves; this is how we should need art, love it, venerate its creators.

[Feliks “Manggha” Jasieńki, 1906]

1 comment:

  1. christopher, you would LOVE art history. take it! :)