When teenage Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) accompanied Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) to Okinawa in 1986’s “The Karate Kid, Part II,” legions of then school-age American Generation Y-ers were introduced to a world of paper doors, sit-on-the-floor tea ceremonies and measured but butt-kicking martial arts that taught bullies that being mean never pays.
Years later, Japan’s “Pokémon” and “Yu-Gi-Oh!” enraptured even more American youths.
Now grown-up fans of those franchises, and their kids, can experience a mini mash up of pop culture nostalgia, art and everyday Japanese life via an exhibition opening Friday at Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa.
Called “Jump to Japan: Discovering Culture through Popular Art,” the show is less art exhibition and more hands-on replica of Japanese life and culture. Among the attractions are a rural home with a “tatami” (woven mat) floor, where kids can slip off their shoes and sit down to pretend tea and bean cakes, and a big-city comic book store, where youngsters can tend the counter, practicing common Japanese phrases and exchanging Japanese currency.
Amid the scaled-down buildings are exhibits that explore and explain some of Japan’s most famous modern art forms: anime, or animation, and manga, or comics. There are also displays about traditional scrolls and woodblock prints, the popular art of bygone eras.
Kids and their parents can learn about the process of creating these works of art by doing it themselves. One station allows visitors to create their own animated shorts using props and a projector box. At another, they can draw their own manga characters using a light table and transparencies of interchangeable, manga-style bodies, heads, hairstyles, eyes and mouths.
Another notable feature is the Cat Bus, a big, furry yellow vehicle shaped like a house cat. It’s one of several characters and activities from the movie “My Neighbor Totoro,” a creation of Hayao Miyazaki, who made 2003’s Academy Award winner for best animated feature film, “Spirited Away.”
Amid the bright collectibles and memorabilia under glass, the dress-up stations, and the chance to learn and play the ancient card game “karuta,” the most satisfying part of the exhibit might be the simple placards that answer questions non-manga maniacs are bound to have wondered at one time or another: Why the big eyes, and what’s up with the wild hair?
“Jump to Japan” is a traveling exhibition of the Minnesota Children’s Museum. It will remain at AMY through Oct. 10.
‘Jump to Japan’
What: Delve into Japanese culture via pop art and hands-on activities.
When: Opens Friday. Exhibition hours will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Arizona Museum for Youth, 35 N. Robson St., Mesa
Cost: $6.50 per person age 1 and older
Information: (480) 644-2467 or www.arizonamuseumforyouth.com
See it for free
Thanks to Target Corporation’s Arts & Wonder Free Family Event, you can explore Arizona Museum for Youth on the house noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Arizona Museum of Natural History and Mesa Contemporary Arts at Mesa Arts Center, also downtown, are part of the deal, too. For details and info on each museum, go to www.target.com/arts.