Travel to Japan without leaving home at family-friendly World Trekkers on Feb. 15

Editor’s note: Today’s blog comes to us from Jim Matej from the Okinawa Cultural Association of Texas.

All cultures are marked by their festivals and celebrations. In Okinawa — Japan’s southernmost prefecture — the Buddhist custom of Obon is celebrated every summer and has given rise to Japan’s most internationally recognized performing art: the Eisa dance.

Obon began more than 500 years ago. It is believed that each year during Obon, the ancestors’ spirits return to this world in order to visit their relatives. During the three-day event, graves are visited and food offerings are made at temples and household altars, ending with traditional dances called Bon-Odori (Obon dances).

The unique culture of Okinawa was established during the reign of the Ryukyu Kingdom. During that time it was a hub of maritime trade in Southeast and East Asia. This was due, in most part, to a tributary relationship with China’s Ming Dynasty. Ryukyuan ships, often provided by China, traded at ports throughout the region including China, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Java, Malacca, Siam, and Sumatra.

See authentic Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko at HMNS' first ever World Trekkers event Feb. 15!With the abolition of clans and the establishment of prefectures during the Meiji Restoration of the 1800s, the Buddhist dances in Okinawa began to transform into Eisa performances. Today, in the local villages and towns of Okinawa, Eisa is still performed in its traditional role as part of the Obon festivities.  The youth of each community gather to form their own Eisa groups. On the last day of Obon, they march through the streets and stop in front of homes to perform a traditional send-off for the visiting ancestors.

Koza City (present-day Okinawa City) began the transformation to modern Eisa dance by establishing the Traditional Okinawan Dance Festival in 1956.  Although held at the same time of year as Obon, this Eisa competition is open to all community Eisa groups in Okinawa. The festival has since evolved into a festival representing the Okinawan culture as a whole.

Okinawan Eisa Dance was brought to the world stage by Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko (Ryukyu Kingdom Festival Drums). Since the early 1980s, RMD has elevated this religious and festival dance into a performing art. The choreography is created in Okinawa and is a dynamic blend of traditional Eisa and Karate forms with contemporary influences incorporating both traditional folk music and modern rock music. Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko is now a worldwide organization with chapters throughout Okinawa, Japan, Latin America, and the United States – RMD Texas being one of those.

See authentic Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko at HMNS' first ever World Trekkers event Feb. 15!In traditional Japanese costumes — with Jikatabi’s (calf-high white cloth shoes) flashing and arms swinging in synchronized movement, rhythmically pounding drums — this high-stepping, high-energy drum and dance troupe has performed worldwide, including at venues like Carnegie Hall in New York City.

In 1995, in association with Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko, the people of Okinawa incorporated the Eisa dance into a celebration of summer itself. The “Summer Festival in Naha” now has the world’s spotlight shinning on five days of Eisa being performed in the streets of Okinawa’s capitol city. The last day is capped off with the unbelievable “Ten Thousand Eisa Dance Parade.” Up to 10,000 Eisa dancers process down Kokusai Street, lighting up the city with their colorful costumes and jubilant dance, all proud to be part of Okinawa’s most internationally recognized performing art.

Join HMNS for its first-ever World Trekkers festival celebrating the art, culture and cuisine of Japan and see authentic Ryukyukoku Matsuri Daiko performed up-close by RMD-Texas.

World Trekkers will take place in the Grand Hall on Friday, Feb. 15 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Attendees can opt to buy a passport to track their cultural comprehension through each World Trekker festival, spotlighting Egypt (May 3), France (Aug 9), and Russia (Nov. 15). Tickets are $9 for the public; $7 for members. Click here for more information or here to purchase in advance.

Glimpse: Spirits & Headhunters [12 Days of HMNS]

Today is the Seventh Day of HMNS! In the spirit of the classic holiday carol, we’re taking 12 days to feature 12 different videos that preview or go behind-the-scenes of a holiday museum activity, here on the blog (or, you can get a sneak peek at all the videos on 12days.hmns.org – we won’t tell).

Many of the exhibits we host here – like Genghis Khan or the Terra Cotta Warriors – present objects from long-dead cultures, and the wonder comes from the experience of coming face-to-face with artifacts that were created so long ago. And when you walk through our current Spirits & Headhunters exhibition, and contemplate the absolute beauty of the vibrant, intricate feather art and objects on display, it’s easy to forget that the cultures that created these works are very much alive – though also fast disappearing.

Learn more from Adam Mekler, associate curator for Amazonia, who believes, “When a culture disappears, I think an aspect of all humanity disappears.”

Click play to explore the exhibit and discover these vanishing worlds.

Need to catch up?

The First Day of HMNS – Explore: Snow Science
The Second Day of HMNS – Preview: The Chronicles of Narnia Exhibition
The Third Day of HMNS – Preview: Disney’s A Christmas Carol
The Fourth Day of HMNS – Investigate: The Star of Bethlehem
The Fifth Day of HMNS – Shop: The Perfect Gift
The Sixth Day of HMNS – Marvel: Faberge

Get into the holiday spirit! Visit our 12 Days of HMNS web site to see the videos and get more information about each event, exhibit and film: 12days.hmns.org Happy Holidays!

Dead Man’s Party – Dia de los Muertos

Dia de los Muertos artwork by one of our hmns bloggers!

Halloween is this Saturday and everyone is scrambling to put together their costumes and figuring out what parties to go to Friday and Saturday. But what are your plans for Dia de los Muertos on November 2nd!?

The education department here at HMNS offered an encore event to last year’s very popular Dia de los Muertos Educator Overnight and teachers came from all over the greater Houston area to learn about this incredible holiday and how to do some activities with their own students so that they may learn more about the culture. If you want to learn how to make sugar skulls check out this guide online – it has some great tips on how to make some incredible shaped sugar treasures!

Above you’ll see an artwork that references La Calavera Catrina, an etching done by Mexican printmaker Jose Guadelupe Posada in 1913. La Catrina and some of Posada’s other artwork is reproduced and can be seen around town available on book bags, t-shirts and in jewelry – especially around Dia de los Muertos. This piece pictured here is composed completely out of dyed eggshells by one of our very own hmns bloggers!

Below are some of the fun hands on activities and projects the teachers did at the Overnight this year and don’t worry – we’re already thinking up some cool ideas for “Dia de los Muertos II – the Overnight Sequel for Educators” – next October! Drop me a line if you want to receive notice when we start accepting registrations for this Overnight in 2010 – overnights@hmns.org.

Decorating sugar skulls
Decorating sugar skulls
Calacas puppet in progress
Calacas puppet in progress
Cigar box altar
Cigar box altar
This tiny clay skull is perfect for a tiny cigar box altar table!
This tiny clay skull
is perfect for a tiny cigar box altar table!
Completed sugar skulls!
Completed sugar skulls!

100 Years – 100 Objects: Element III

The Houston Museum of Natural Science was founded in 1909 - meaning that the curators of the Houston Museum of Natural Science have been collecting and preserving natural and cultural treasures for a hundred years now. For this yearlong series, our current curators have chosen one hundred exceptional objects from the Museum’s immense storehouse of specimens and artifacts—one for each year of our history. Check back here frequently to learn more about this diverse selection of behind-the-scenes curiosities—we will post the image and description of a new object every few days.

This description is from Dirk, the museum’s curator of anthropology. He’s chosen a selection of objects that represent human cultures throughout time and around the world, that we’ll be sharing here – and on hmns.org – throughout the year.

This modern piece of art was made by Tammy Garcia (Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico). It represents a step-fret motif which we can find in Pre-Columbian cultures dating back more than a millennium. It shows up in Pre-Columbian architecture in Mesoamerica as well as pottery and textiles from South America. This Tammy Garcia piece embodies a link between the past and the present, with the former continuing to be an inspiration for today.

Explore thousands of years of Native American history in the John P. McGovern Hall of the Americas, a permanent exhibition at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

You can see more images of this fascinating artifact – as well as the others we’ve posted so far this year – in the
photo gallery on hmns.org.