WHAT: Individually scheduled press tours for “Words of Wisdom: Buddhist Calligraphy from Japan”
WHEN: April 1–Feb. 25, 2024
WHERE: Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, Freer Gallery of Art 1050 Independence Ave. S.W.
WHO: Frank Feltens, The Japan Foundation Associate Curator of Japanese Art

Members of the media are invited to view “Words of Wisdom: Buddhist Calligraphy from Japan,” an exhibition that brings together different types of script presented in various formats to illustrate a journey of objects, knowledge and cultural identity.

Historical records suggest that writing began in Japan around the year 552 when political and religious emissaries from the Korean kingdom of Baekje arrived, equipped with handheld Buddhist sculptures and sutras in literary Chinese. Prior to that moment, Japan had not yet developed a written language of its own, and the introduction of writing changed the country’s history forever.

The arrival of both Buddhism and the written language changed the religious system of Japan; introduced a new consciousness for expressing personal thoughts, larger concepts and political power; and charted a new course for the country’s intellectual, linguistic, political and artistic domains. The cultural shift from an oral tradition to a written one was accompanied by a rich fabric of artistic, architectural and literary expression.

“On the basis of the Chinese characters that first came to Japan in the sixth century, the country developed a unique system for writing and expressing thought. The advent of written language enabled the emergence of Japanese culture as we know it. The exhibition traces the very beginnings of this monumental process.”

– Frank Feltens, The Japan Foundation Associate Curator of Japanese Art

Note to editors: Media may contact Jennifer Mitchell at mitchellja@si.edu for more information or to schedule a time to interview the curator and tour the exhibition.