Alexander the Great, East-West Cultural Contacts from Greece to Japan

alexander_tokyoAugust 5 – October 5, 2003
Tokyo National Museum
(Ueno Park)

Opening hours:
(every Friday until 20:00)

General Inquiries:
Tokyo National Museum
tel.: +81-3-3822-1111


Tokyo National Museum, NHK, NHK Promotions, The Yomiuri Shimbun

Organization of Promotion of Hellenic Culture (Greece)

In cooperation with Agency for Cultural Affairs in Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Embassy of Hellenic Republic

Special Support Canon Inc., Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd

Additional Support Shimizu Corporation, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance , Ltd

With the Assistance of Japan Airline Co., Ltd., Finnair


 A Long Journey from Greece

On the Exhibition of Alexander the Great

photo of the entrance of Museum (by Prof. Ishida)

Alexander the Great is waiting for you to come to Tokyo August to October. This bust from Le Musee de Louvre (photo 1), is supposed to be one of the most faithful portrait sculptures. Tokyo National Museum is located at Ueno, where you are welcome to some other museums and Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, into which the admission is a dream for every young Japanese artist in the making (photo 2). Ueno is also a children’s favourite place because of the famous zoo.

Some minutes’ walk from the Ueno station will bring you to the Museum, beside which Lefcadio Hearn, the nineteenth century author from Lefcada known to almost all the Japanese, will give a tacit salute to you after a long journey to Far East with his engraved profile in the front yard of International Children’s Library (photo 3).

One afternoon in June I visited the Museum because Ms Maki Kobayashi, the manager of public relations, had arranged an interview with Mr. Takeshi Gotoh, the main curator in charge of the Exhibition.

The Museum is a huge building with its labyrinthine structure, so or more complicated than the National Archaeological Museum of Athens. I asked Ms. Kobayashi jestingly while she was leading me to Mr. Gotoh’s room: “It will take a full year to get familiar with this maze?”. To my surprise she replied somewhat seriously, “Yes it will”.
To my question: “Why now did you plan this exhibition?” “We would like to trace and show the cultural exchanges and fusion of the civilizations of East and West which were brought about by the eastward campaign of Alexander the Great”, Mr Gotoh, quietly answered in his spacious office, “It’s true that ancient civilizations sometimes clashed against and feuded with each other, but at the same time very important that his campaign gave birth to one global civilization called Hellenism, approximately two thousand and three hundred years ago”.
His words have given me some hope midst undesirable discords sometimes seen in the world now, for each of us might feel attached to harmony rather than dissonance within ourselves.

“The campaign by this Macedonian King was accompanied with the influx and transformation of authentically Hellenic style among the eastern civilizations including Japan: a very Greek idea of giving palpable shape to the unseen Gods, which couldn’t be detected in the East”.In example of a vase crater of the 4th century BC, Boreas, God of North Wind, unfolds his large wings and is about to abduct Oreithyia, Princess at Athens (photo 4). Around the 3rd century BC, the Gandharan Buddhist art made a relief of Oado, Wind God, with his mantle full of wind perhaps with Boreas as its model (photo 5). Finally we could trace this transformation of Greek God of Wind in the 13th century Japanese God of Wind preserved at Myouhouin Temple in Kyoto (photo 6).

In other words the Hellenic style or idea, after such a long journey from Greece (Hellas), made some influence upon the Japanese Buddhist art through intermediary of the Gandharan art, the evidences for which can be clearly seen in such statues as of the 12th century Bishamonten with a phoenix figure on his diadem at Toji Temple in Kyoto (photo 7); and of the 13th century Shukongoushin, the guardian of Buddha, with a golden thunderbolt corresponding to that of Zeus in his right hand at Kongouin Temple in Kyoto (photo 8).

It is one month later and at the Hellenic Embassy in Japan that I meet Mr Thanos Kafopoulos, the first secretary to the Ambassador, His Excellency Mr Kyriakos Rodousakis. He has kindly given me valuable pieces of information concerning the generous cooperation on the Greek side.

The Hellenic Republic gave hand to realizing the Exhibition: the total 42 works of art of about one hundred fifty works exhibited are from such museums in Greece as National Archaeological Museum at Athens, Acropolis Museum at Athens, Archaeological Museum at Samos, Archaeological Museum at Thessaloniki, Archaeological Museum at Pella, Archaeological Museum at Argos, Archaeological Museum at Dion, Archaeological Museum at Mytilini, Archaeological Museum of Veroia, Archaeological Museum at Volos, Archaeological Museum at Chania, Agora Museum at Athens and Archaeological Museum at Rhodos etc.

My sincere acknowledgements are for Pf. Hiroshi Matsuo at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music whose introduction enabled me to have an interview at Tokyo National Museum; Mr Takeshi Gotoh who allowed me to interview and Ms Maki Kobayashi who arranged the interview; Mr Thanos Kafopoulos who spared his time for me and Ms Eleni Nakamura who had arranged the meeting at the Embassy.

Written by H.J.Ishida, Professor at Tohoku Gakuin University and Fellow of A.S.Onassis Foundation and University of Athens 

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