East meets West in new Japanese exhibit at Kings County Museum

Wendy Elliott welliott@kingscountynews.ca
Published on June 29, 2014

What does a century old piece of Asian embroidery have to do with Hello Kitty? Why is a kimono worn wrapped left over right instead of the other way around? What is the best way to keep a tablecloth clean when eating with chopsticks?

Visitors can explore these questions and Japanese culture at the Kings County Museum until mid-August, thanks to artifacts collected by Kentville native Cynthia Young.

Young first went to Japan to teach English as a second language in the fall of 1989. She remembers going to the supermarket and being confronted by strange food.

She spent over 13 years there, largely in northern Japan. Her last stint ended in 2012 and she taught preschoolers right up to nursing home residents.

Collecting dolls and miniatures initially, Young extended her interests during her second stay, picking up items like chopstick rests known as ‘hasioki.’

Young also brought back cotton gowns known as

"Yukata." She says she frequently purchased them second hand in kimono shops.

The style of wrapping, Young added, is a matter of etiquette. She was attracted to handmade and hand-painted items.

“They were not played with,” she said. Today, the artifacts are handled with white gloves.

During the Apple Blossom Festival, she spent a day at the museum conducting an origami workshop. Young was delighted with the visitors who folded paper with her, including a Japanese mom.

“I’m willing to share (the artifacts) as culture. It’s so fascinating,” she said of the items that are unique to Japan.

“It’s very different from here.”

Visitors will be able to gain some insight into the festivals and celebrations of the island at the exhibit.

This summer, she hopes to have two visitors demonstrate the traditional Japanese tea ceremony and calligraphy.