An exhibit that lets children explore Japan's contemporary "kawaii" culture as well as traditional Shinto beliefs about nature opens Saturday at the Children's Museum of Manhattan in New York.
The "Hello from Japan!" exhibit, which has toured children's museums across the United States since its 2015 debut, returns to Manhattan with new attractions including a manga studio and origami workspace.
"The whole idea of 'kawaii' or 'cuteness' is something I think kids can connect with," exhibit designer Tim Cramer told Kyodo News.
"There's so many bright colors to the style, and it was mainly a child-oriented and centered thing," he said, noting the early trend of Japanese students individualizing their school uniforms with cute pins and decorations.
Inspired by the Harajuku district of modern Tokyo, the "Kawaii Central" portion of the exhibit includes interactive stations where children can sing karaoke, practice writing in katakana, design mascots and serve up Japanese meals with toy sushi pieces.
A bridge, modeled as a hybrid between the stone bridge at Tokyo's Meiji shrine and the wooden one at Ise, leads to an area with an indoor Shinto-themed park featuring a traditional-style shrine with hanging bell, a tree for leaving wishes and an authentic dispenser of "omikuji" or fortunes.
"The 'kawaii' area is a more urban theme, so I created this with aluminum and steel, and clear lines," Cramer said. "When you get to the Shinto area, I wanted something more natural, with wood and curvature. I wanted that contrast."
In developing the original exhibit, the museum created its own animated character who appears on various signs to teach Japanese words and customs. The young girl is dressed up as a mascot on signs in the urban area, and appears as a shrine caretaker in the Shinto park.
The museum also decided to present its written displays in Japanese as well as English and Spanish.
"We thought it was really important that there was Japanese in the exhibit," Ellen Bari, the exhibit's writer and a senior consultant, told Kyodo. "This makes it feel like you're someplace else."
"Some of these things (from Japanese culture) may be unfamiliar. Once (visitors) have been exposed, it is no longer unfamiliar."
"It really expands their universe," Bari said.
"Hello from Japan!" is the third in the museum's series showcasing global cultures, following exhibitions on Ancient Greece and China. A fourth on the world's Muslim cultures is currently touring in the United States.
The Japan exhibit, which includes historical and contemporary art on loan from Asia Society Museum, runs from Saturday until May 6 with programs on manga illustration, kimono design and other Japanese arts.