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Friday, January 20, 2017

Pyramids treasure in Toyama - Al-Ahram Weekly

Pyramids treasure in Toyama

Nevine El-Aref enjoys a trip back to the age of the pyramid builders in the Japanese city of Toyama

Residents and visitors to the Japanese city of Toyama fell under the spell of the Giza Pyramids last week on the opening of the sixth leg of the Golden Pharaohs and Pyramids touring exhibition in Japan.

Posters of the Great Pyramids at Giza, the pharaoh Khufu's solar boat, the golden mask of Amenemopet, the limestone pyramidion of Ry and Maya, the black basalt statue of Khafre and jewelry embellished with precious stones have been decorating the walls of Toyama train station, shops, hotels and streets.

For the next two months, Toyama residents will be able to travel back in time to the ancient Egyptian civilisation and explore one of its most important and powerful eras – the Old Kingdom, the age of the Pyramid builders.

A gala ceremony was organised at the Toyama Civic Centre last Friday to celebrate the opening of the exhibition, with Japanese officials, Egyptologists and curators gathering to attend the inauguration. Among them were Kiyotsugu Yamashi, president of Tulip TV which organised the exhibition, and Osamu Yamamato, director-general of civic affairs and culture at the Toyama prefectural government.

The Egyptian delegation was headed by Gharib Sonbol, head of restoration at the ministry of antiquities in Cairo.

The present exhibition is the first ancient Egyptian exhibition to tour Japan after a three-year hiatus following the Tutankhamun: Golden Age of the Pharaohs touring exhibition in 2012.

That exhibition was cut short and returned to Egypt before the end of the planned tour after some Egyptian archaeologists filed a lawsuit against the ministry in the aftermath of the 25 January Revolution. The lawsuit sought to end the sending of touring exhibitions of ancient Egyptian artefacts abroad.

The present exhibition was inaugurated in October 2015 in the Japanese capital Tokyo and is scheduled to tour seven other cities in Japan over a 25-month period, including Matsuyama, Sendai, Kagoshima, Kyoto, Toyama, Fukuoka, and Shizuoka.

"The exhibition does not only shed light on the Old Kingdom and the age of the Pyramid builders, but also highlights the strong bilateral relationship between Egypt and Japan in all domains," minister of antiquities Khaled Al-Enany told the Weekly.

He added that the exhibition was a very good opportunity to promote tourism and to encourage Japanese tourists to return to Egypt.

Al-Enany said that Egyptian-Japanese cooperation in the cultural field was being seen in many distinguished projects. Among the most important was the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) overlooking the Giza Plateau which will put on display 100,000 artefacts and welcome millions of visitors every year.

"This is thanks to the Japanese government and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) for their continuous efforts and support in offering two soft loans to complete one of the most important cultural projects in the world," El-Enany said.

In addition, Japan had provided technical and scientific support through the provision of scientific equipment and materials to the GEM's conservation centre.

There are also many joint Egyptian-Japanese missions at various archaeological sites in Egypt that have yielded important results. Waseda University, for example, has been excavating in Egypt since 1966, and was amongst the first foreign institutions to introduce advanced technological tools to better understand Egypt's archaeology.

One of the University's recent projects is the exploration of Khufu's second solar boat in its pit on the Giza Plateau.

"The exhibition is the first of its kind in Japan," Sakuhi Yoshimura, president of the Higashi Nippon International University in Japan and the exhibition's supervisor, told the Weekly, adding that exhibitions featuring the Pyramids were rare throughout the world.

He explained that the aim of the exhibition was to use a variety of exhibits to decipher the truth of the construction of the Pyramids in order to discard fantasies and present only established facts.

"It is the first comprehensive exhibition dealing with the Pyramids to be held anywhere in the world, and the artefacts it presents are amazing for their quality," Yoshimura said.

The exhibition has five sections. The first features the construction of the Pyramids and the techniques employed, displaying a pyramidion, a hammer that was used to work the square stone blocks, surveying tools and other practical items.

The second section looks at the rulers of the Old Kingdom during the Pyramid-building period by displaying sculptures of the kings who reigned during the era. Among the best of these are three statues connected with Khufu that were discovered by the Waseda University mission.

They consist of two statues of the god of war Sekhmet that have the name of Khufu engraved on their feet and a small statue of the sphinx which has the name of Khufu written between its front legs. In addition, there are statues of the pharaohs Khafre and Menkare as well as others dating from the Fifth Dynasty and the Middle Kingdom.

"It is the first time that so many statues of the kings have been gathered together anywhere in the world," Yoshimura said.

He added that the third section of the exhibition considered the labourers who served the ancient Egyptian kings and devoted themselves to the construction of the Pyramids. It put on display a large collection of statues of nobles, ministers, family members and a married couple, as well as images of craftsmen, bakers, potters and brewers.

The fourth section of the exhibition focuses on the women who supported the labourers, looking at their belongings and daily customs. There is a striking collection of gold and silver jewelry decorated with semi-precious stones.

The fifth and final section features the aspirations and desires of the ancient Egyptians, including their desire to arrive safely in the afterlife, looking at the artefacts they have left behind in an attempt to understand their hopes to travel to the next world and what kind of life they expected to spend there.

 "The ancient Egyptians thought of the afterworld as being a golden paradise, and the method by which they gained admittance to it was the most important theme of their lives," Yoshimura told the Weekly.

He said that it was for this reason that they were happy to devote themselves to the construction of the Pyramids even if they were injured or their neighbours were killed during the work, which could take decades to complete.

In addition to the five sections of the exhibition, images of the solar boats that transported the kings to the afterlife are also on show in order to give visitors a better understanding of ancient Egyptian ideas on the Pyramids. 

One of the highlights of the exhibition, a golden mask of Amenemopet, is being shown in Japan for the first time in 21 years. A high-definition film of the mask of Tutankhamun, the first time the piece has been filmed outside of its display case, is also being shown.

Sonbol told the Weekly that the exhibition highlighted one of the most interesting eras of ancient Egyptian history: the period of the Pyramid builders.

Each artefact in the show displayed the dazzling craftsmanship that had characterised the period, he said, adding that it included 120 artefacts carefully selected from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, including the statues of Khafre, a group of statues of servants, workers, and the makers of beer and bread, and a statue of a scribe.

Also on display is a kind of ancient game set and a statue of the pharaoh Ne-user-Re. The exhibition is accompanied by Mohamed Abdel-Satar, an Egyptian curator, and restorer Omayma Ali.

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