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Kyoto's kaleidoscope museum dazzles By Norman Munroe In a city that rightly boasts of its numerous monuments to it's glorious and illustrious past, the Kaleidoscope Museum of Kyoto provides a delightful counter-point to the ancient capital's glittering architectural and religious treasures. The museum, located on a quiet street in the old capital's Nakagyo Ward boasts a fascinating array of these marvelous instruments of light and color And unlike other museums where, for the most part, you can only gawk at the exhibits, here, in the single, relatively small room that essentially comprises the facility, you are actively encouraged to peer into the instruments and be dazzled by the breathtaking patterns that are created by rotating, pulling, unspooling, tilting, turning handles or cranks, not to mention maneuvering the entire instruments, themselves, ranging in size from some very large objects to pocket-sized gadgets, as the case might be. You may well be astonished, as I was, that kaleidoscopes can take so many forms, not just the regular small cylinder with the rotating end that may have turned up under the Christmas tree when you were a child. There is simply very little in the way of barriers to the forms they can take and the ones displayed on the day my friend and I visited, some 50 kaleidoscopes from the museum's collection of about four times that number, ranging from test tubes up to and including being hidden inside music boxes, garbage cans and even statues, like the gloriously colorful glass maiko, or geisha, that has to be seen to be properly appreciated! For a city that quantifies its past in centuries, the museum, or Anekojikan in Japanese, is not, by that yardstick, even properly a baby, having been established only in 2004 and just recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. According to Ayaka Kawai, a member of the museum's small, very friendly, enthusiastic and approachable staff, the facility was established with one of its main aims being to offer therapy to troubled kids who are treated at Kyoto's Municipal Education Counseling Center for Children, to which the museum, is in fact, physically attached. Since its second year of operation, it has, however, operated as a non-profit organization. Kawai believes that the instruments, termed mangekyo in Japanese, with their limitless abilities to form spell-bindingly colorful patterns, have

therapeutic powers. By all accounts, the museum has been a hit, not just with the troubled children but with just about all who have come through its doors. “Both adults and children are amazed and the adults look like children,

again,” says Kawai. “They are very excited and they are very happy, so, its good!” Therapy may not necessarily be what Scotsman, Sir David Brewster, had had in mind in 1816 when he quite accidentally re-invented the kaleidoscope, while carrying out experiments on light polarization. The instrument, had, in fact, been known to the ancient Greeks, and it is from the Greek language that the English name for the instrument comes. The word "kaleidoscope" derives from the Greek words καλός (kalos), "beautiful" είδος (eidos), "shape" and σκοπέω (scopeο), "to look at, to examine". To use the Wikipedia definition, a kaleidoscope is, essentially, “a tube of mirrors containing loose colored beads, pebbles or other small colored objects. The viewer looks in one end and light enters the other end, reflecting off the mirrors. Typically there are two rectangular lengthwise mirrors. Setting of the mirrors at 45° creates eight duplicate images of the objects, four at 60°, and four at 90°. As the tube is rotated, the tumbling of the colored objects presents the viewer with varying colors and patterns.” That, definition, however, as far as the exhibits at the museum are concerned, merely serves as a point of departure. Indeed, as Wikipedia points out, “modern kaleidoscopes are made of brass tubes, stained glass, wood, steel, gourds and most any other material an artist can sculpt or manipulate”, which is more in line with the range of devices on show at the museum. Some of the instruments are powered, at least in part, by electricity. One large octagonal-shaped creation reveals itself as a combination kaleidoscope and music box, both of which are set in motion when cranked up with a handle sticking out of its side. Another incorporates a clock and the patterns and colors change with hours. Yet another achieves the trifecta, having both a clock and a music box, as well as a kaleidoscope! The devices are, in almost all cases, ingenious creations created by both Japanese and foreign artists, now on long-term loan to the museum. Several of them are, in fact, award-winning pieces. There is even an

electrical projection system that can project patterns on the walls, floors and ceilings of a room, transforming it into a wonderland of color and everchanging swirling vistas. In fact, visitors can and do exclaim their 'oohs' and 'ahs', like my friend and I did, during the five-minute projection displays, accompanied by suitable mood music, put on every hour. On the day that we visited, wanting to do something other than extend our trek from one temple to another, the kaleidoscope museum seemed to be just the ticket. How right we were! It does not seem like much from the outside but once we got inside, time absolutely flew by as we were captivated by the boundless world of light and color that enveloped us. After whiling away far more hours than we had intended in the museum's display room, it was time to repair to its combination cafe-cum-gift shop cum-workroom and try our hands at making our own humble instruments, where the cheaper of the two 'starter kits' start at a mere ¥350. That, too, was a lot of fun, although the seriously delicious smells coming from the kitchen proved quite distracting. The gift counter boasts what must be the only shop in the country that boasts beautifully crafted bespoke kaleidoscopes as jewelery and watch and phone accessories, while retaining their base functions, I might add! Kaleidoscopes have undergone something of a renaissance in popularity since the latter part of the 20th century and, as mentioned, many artists and craftsmen have been turning their talents to creating original works of arts. But for the artistically challenged, electronic game makers, Sega, manufacture kaleidoscope projectors, available at, among other places, Tokyu Hands and, like all things electronic, in Akihabara. So, the next time you happen to be in Kyoto and you want to do something completely different, why not go appease your inner child - not to mention real children - in a world of light, color and endless fascination. -30Opens Tues. – Sun, and National Holidays, from 10:00­6:00. Closed on Mondays. ( open if Mon. is  a national holiday and closed the next day). A 3 min. walk from Exits 3­1 and 3­2 of the  Karasuma­oike subway station..On the south side Aneyakoji‐dori, east of Higashinotoin‐dori.   TEL/FAX 075­254­7902 .  Web address: http://www.k­

Kaleidoscope Museum of Kyoto  

An introduction to the amazing world of kaleidoscopes and the museum devoted to them in Kyoto, Japan