Kanpai! Kuraray toasts to harmony and good fortune with traditional Kagamiwari Ceremony

Editor’s Note: This post was provided by Kuraray, local sponsor to the special exhibition Samurai: The Way of the Warrior on display now at HMNS.

Kagami-biraki is a traditional Japanese ceremony performed at celebratory events in which the lid of a sake barrel is broken open with a wooden mallet and the sake subsequently served. The kagami is a symbol of harmony and the kagami-biraki, represents opening to harmony and good fortune.

Recently, Kuraray purchased the MonoSol company, the global market-leading manufacturer of water-soluble polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH) films. Their products are used around the world and touch our lives every day. Monodose films are MonoSol’s fastest-growing product; these are water-soluble films used in products such as Cascade Complete, Tide Pods, Purex Ultrapacks, and other brands of single-dose dishwashing or laundry detergent.

Japanese-based Kuraray held the traditional Japanese Kagamiwari Ceremony at the MonoSol headquarters upon completing the purchase. This ritual of breaking open of a barrel of sake (Japanese rice wine) is a popular custom in Japan. It is performed at special celebrations such as the New Year, a wedding, an anniversary, or the opening of a new business. When the cask of sake is cracked open with a wooden mallet the sake is ladled to wooden masu (cups) and given to the participants, who then toast in Japanese, shouting “Kampai!” Literally translated, kagamiwari means “the opening of a mirror” or “breaking the mirror open.” Kuraray holds events like this for plant openings, dedications, and other important celebrations.

Watch the video below for footage of a Kuraray ground breaking event in Texas, including a Kagamiwari Ceremony.

The acquisition of MonoSol, one of the largest PVOH users in the United States, supports Kuraray’s strategy to expand its vinyl acetate chemical chain business around the world. Through this acquisition, Kuraray expanded its product offering of PVOH films into a wider range of industrial applications, thereby enhancing the company’s competitiveness. Kuraray currently supplies “Poval” PVOH film for optical uses, including a polarizing film, which is an essential component of liquid crystal displays. 

Want to learn more about Japanese culture and traditions? Visit HMNS to see Samurai: The Way of the Warrior,on display through September 7, 2015. Local support for this exhibit is provided by Kuraray.

The Battle of the Beard: Tut’s shave stirs controversy

I work in Cairo, and this week I had the interesting experience of being at the edge of a huge news story. Ancient Egypt is always popular but I’ve never seen anything like the media scrum that descended on the Cairo Museum last week. You all know why – the Minister for Antiquities and his colleagues were responding to allegations that the gold and glass beard on the funerary mask of Tutankhamun had been damaged by restorers. The truth was rather more prosaic than some of the wilder flights of fancy that had been circulating beforehand.

Beard Blog Media scrum

Courtesy J. Smythe

As most Egyptologists know, and had been patiently explaining to anyone within earshot since the story broke, the beard was made separately from the rest of the mask. Howard Carter detached it when he extracted the mummy from the solid gold innermost coffin in the 1920s. In fact the mask spent its first decade-and-a-bit on display in the Cairo Museum beardless.  It was re-attached in the 1940s.

Burton photograph p0751 Copyright Griffith Institute, University of Oxford

Burton photograph p0751
Copyright Griffith Institute, University of Oxford

So, rather than the beard being ‘snapped off’, all that had happened was that the adhesive used to attach the 4 lb beard (that’s a LOT of beard … ) had weakened with age and lost its mojo. The beard needed to be stuck back on again. Cairo Museum has its own conservation department, where specialists and visiting researchers keep track of the objects in the museum. At the press conference Christian Eckmann, who is one of the world’s leading conservators of ancient metal, gave a professional assessment of what had happened and what it meant. A heavy lump of smoothly polished metal needs a heavy duty adhesive to keep it attached to another lump of smoothly polished metal. A blob of Elmers isn’t enough. The museum conservators employed an epoxy resin to re-attach the beard.

Although epoxy might sound like the nuclear option, it can be a valid solution for heavier-duty repairs. The obvious problem with the repair is that some excess epoxy squeezed up between the join and smeared over Tutankhamun’s chin. That’s the bad news. The good news is that this can be remedied. Polished gold is an inert, slippery surface; adhesives, generally, don’t bond well with it. Given careful attention and time, Christian Eckmann said, the excess can be removed mechanically, or the whole repair dismantled and treated again. Solid gold is one of the more forgiving materials.

If this has turned out to be perhaps a bit more than a storm in a shaving basin, there are some bigger take homes from it.

1) The media frenzy is (partly) a reassuring display of how much the mask, and Egyptian heritage, means to people in Egypt and worldwide. Now the facts are out, we know where matters stand. If you want to keep in the loop, and show your support for Egyptian history, subscribe to the Facebook page of the Patrons of the Egyptian Museum

2) People often think of museums as places where nothing changes. In fact, we curators, registrars, and conservators have to work hard to keep the effects of time from the objects in their care. Sometimes things don’t go quite as we planned. Every conservator will tell you that each treatment has a potential downside to it, and every curator and conservator had an “I could have had to deal with this” moment when they heard about the beard. At HMNS, we’re lucky enough to have Ron Harvey working as our consulting conservator. Ron has worked for HMNS on material ranging from Lucy, the early fossil hominid, to our Egyptian coffins.

3) And, last but not least, if you’d like to get face-to-face with Tut without taking an 18 hour flight to Cairo, come to the Hall of Ancient Egypt and feast your eyes on two objects in particular.

The first is a small head from a statue of the god Amun. The heavy lidded eyes and pouting mouth are pure Tut, and clearly date the head to his nine year reign.

Beard Blog Amun

Courtesy Chiddingstone Castle

The second is this slightly under life-size bust of a man. He’s wearing the long, undulating wig and short-sleeved pleated shirt in fashion for high officials at the end of the Eighteenth Dynasty (about 1320 BC). Just like Amun’s, his face is very close to Tutankhamun’s.

Courtesy Nicholson Museum, University of Sydney

Courtesy Nicholson Museum, University of Sydney

Why do both god and commoner look like their king? The answer to this helps reveal how the Egyptians viewed their world. This revolved around the king, a god on earth and intermediary between man and the immortals. As the king was the only god who permanently took human form, it made sense for his face to be used on representations of other gods, binding him closer to them. For the king’s subjects, adopting some of his facial traits brought them closer to him, demonstrating their loyalty and obedience. In the case of our bust, this might be rather ironic. The inscribed base of the statue is missing, but some people have identified it as a representation of Horemheb, Tutankhamun’s army chief. Horemheb became king a few years after Tutankhamun’s untimely death. Perhaps his loyal expression was only skin deep (er, a mask…?).

The Secret Handshake: Presenting Business Cards in Japan

Editor’s Note: This post was provided by Kuraray, local sponsor to the special exhibition Samurai: The Way of the Warrior on display now at HMNS.

“Do you have a card?” is a phrase uttered daily in American business. To us, it’s a piece of paper. We take notes on them, stuff them in our pockets and hopefully file them for future easy access.

But, in Japan, business cards are considered extensions of the individual — formal self-introductions that are treated with the utmost respect.

As such, “meishi koukan” (the exchanging of business cards) commands a distinct level of etiquette, complete with its own process:

  • Remove cards from an actual business card case prior to the meeting and place them on top.
  • Beginning with visitors, highest-ranking attendees exchange cards first. This helps the Japanese learn who is in command.
  • Hold card on the top corner with right hand and offer it with the information facing out. Left hand holds the case.
  • Briefly introduce yourself as you present the card, stating your name and company.
  • When other person reciprocates, receive card with your left hand. Carefully read the information. Restate the person’s name and thank them.
  • Display cards received during the meeting, arranging them from left to right in the order of seating (from your point of view). Learn the names of the people you are speaking with and show respect.

Other tips to remember:

  • Never stuff a card into your pocket – it’s considered extremely rude.
  • It is a direct insult to bend, damage or write on the card in front of the owner.
  • Always maintain an ample supply of cards. You may distribute dozens in a larger meeting, and give multiples to the same person.

Despite these rules, every situation will be slightly different and your Japanese counterparts may have another understanding of what is considered protocol. When in doubt, always err on the side of showing respect and politeness.

 Want to learn more about Japanese culture and traditions? Visit HMNS to see Samurai: The Way of the Warrior, on display through September 7, 2015. Local support for this exhibit is provided by Kuraray.


Mark Your Calendars for these events happening at HMNS 1/19-1/25

family_space_day_feature (1)

Bust out your planners, calendars, and PDAs (if you are throwback like that), it’s time to mark your calendars for the HMNS events of this week! 

Free Shipping, No Minimum Sale at the Museum Store
Sale valid from 1/15-1/25
For a limited time receive free shipping on any online order at the HMNS Museum Store. Use promo code FREESHIP. Shop now!

The Educator Event @HMNS
Saturday, January 24, 2015
8 a.m. – 1 p.m.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science is proud to present The Educator Event @HMNS on January 24, 2015. This conference-style event gives educators a unique chance to learn about the educational opportunities provided by museums, educational nonprofits and local organizations in and around Houston. Attendees will earn three hours of CPE credit by attending a variety of exciting, hands-on workshops and participating in an exclusive, self-guided tour of our Wiess Energy Hall!

Family Space Day
George Observatory 
Saturday, January 24
Blast into outer space on a simulated space flight to the Moon! The Expedition Learning Center at the George Observatory will be open for individual children and adults to sign up for missions. No danger is involved! Astronauts are assigned jobs aboard the Space Station Observer and work together as they solve problems and have fun. Volunteers who work at NASA will run the missions and visit with the participants. Don’t miss this special opportunity to participate in real astronaut training! Limited expedition times available, reserve your mission now!