Putting heads together in the Japanese collection.

After a 10 hour flight, four visitors, curators from the Tokyo National Museum came to examine our small collection of Japanese artefacts.

This short visit demonstrated yet again how the museum business is centred on material objects. With the ready and almost instant access to digital resources it is becoming easier to exchange ideas and curatorial expertise between museums across the globe. However, the need and desire to view actual objects is as strong as ever.

I sometimes wonder if the increasingly digital world creates a special position for museums and galleries which offer their visitors contact with real objects, because facing the real and tangible gives us a different experience that the virtual world cannot emulate (yet).

Our visitors systematically examined bows and arrows, mirrors, statues and swords. They took notes, discussed the provenance and use of objects, and also offered thoughtful and informative comments. A joy of learning about different cultures is often in decoding meaning and function of practices and objects that have no comparable parallels in our own life.

And so we learned, and this is only a tip of a proverbial body of knowledge, a number of interesting details. Upon an old quiver is an emblem of the famed Tokugawa Shogunate - the last feudal military government (1603-1868) held by shoguns, each of whom was a member of the Tokugawa clan. Our display of Japanese historical currency – equivalent of coins – has a variety of real and replicated ‘money’, some used in the 16th and 17th century. And the maker of a ‘magic’ mirror (18-19th century) boldly claimed to be the best craftsmen, while the crane and turtle depicted on its reverse are symbols of longevity.

I wish we could have spent more time with our Japanese colleagues, who generously shared their expertise, but it was only a flying visit. Perhaps next time.

Prepared by Vickie Tran and Stan Florek