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Zen Monk Sengai Gibon's Works on Display at Haneda Airport's Discovery Museum

Zen Monk Sengai Gibon's Works on Display at Haneda Airport's Discovery Museum

One of the Gibon's centerpieces: "Tora" (Tiger)

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The Discovery Museum, an art facility on the south side of the third floor of Haneda Airport's Terminal 2 in Ohta Ward, Tokyo, has been hosting a new project since December 27th called "Zen Sengai."

The exhibit's focus is on Sengai Gibon (1750-1837), the Zen monk who lived during the latter half of Japan's Edo Period. The collection contains 30 pieces including Sengai's calligraphy and paintings as well as a bamboo "chashaku" tea scoop, divided into two sections (to be exhibited at different times) portraying his early and later life. Upon completing strict ascetic training and traveling on foot, Sengai served at Shofuku-ji Temple, Japan's oldest Zen temple, located in Fukuoka on the island of Kyushu. He later strayed from his regular duties to live among the common people and became affectionately known as "Sengai of Hakata." Hakata Ward, in the city of Fukuoka, is the location of Shofuku-ji. Sengai's calligraphy and paintings, drawn according to his unique "Gaiga Muho" technique, were not only meant to spread the teachings of Zen to a wider audience, but were also distinguished by their ability to pose a question to the viewer and make one feel humor or tenderness. The museum says visitors at the exhibit experience the spirit of Zen Buddhism by confronting the works and engaging in a mental question-and-answer session.

The centerpiece is "Shigetsu Hotei" (Hotei Pointing at the Moon), a painting depicting a traditional Zen monk who is said to have lived in the late Tang Dynasty of China. Other works include "Tora" (Tiger), which dares the viewer to "guess whether it is a cat or a tiger"; "Chashaku Mei Fuhaku," a carving made by the tea ceremony devotee; and "Unkaku Chawan," a tea bowl from Korea.

The Discovery Museum, which opened in 2010, is the first museum inside a Japanese airport. The permanent exhibit, designed in a newer lounge style that stretches the boundaries of a conventional art museum, has a collection of some 6,000 pieces and over 50,000 historical documents related to the Hosokawa clan, a samurai family with a 700-year history. The Sengai Gibon exhibit is the museum's twelfth special project.

The exhibit is featuring Sengai's early work until February 2nd, 2014, while his later works will be on display from February 4th through March 9th. The museum is open from 11:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and 10:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekends and holidays. The exhibit will not be accessible on February 3rd while the collection of Sengai's later work is set up. A "gallery talk" discussion session is also held twice every Wednesday during the course of the exhibit at 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Admission is free of charge.

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