Let's Go to The Museum / Drawings on coffin bring ancient world to life
By Yusuke Sano / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterThe Middle East — where the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt once flourished. The Middle Eastern Culture Center in Japan transports visitors to a land of burning sands that connects East and West, with about 200 exhibits.
In the center's lobby, a 2.25-meter replica of "The Stele of the Code of Hammurabi" welcomes visitors. This is the legal code of ancient Mesopotamia, compiled by King Hammurabi of the First Babylonian Dynasty in the 18th century B.C.
It is a collection of court rulings, consisting of 282 laws. It stipulates not only simple criminal penalties often symbolized by sayings such as "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," but also offers provisions for various other situations.
For example, it stipulates that if a farmer has neglected to properly manage his land and harmed the farming lands of other people, the farmer has to pay with barley or money raised by selling personal property. It is created in the spirit of compensation for damages.
The code also discusses a wide variety of cases closely related to ordinary people's lives, such as loan interest, credit and inheritance.
It illustrates that the Mesopotamian people led complex social lives about 4,000 years ago.
Just before the exhibition hall, a 13-centimeter-tall blue-green hippopotamus figurine is displayed. This is the center's mascot "Lulika,"a faience figurine dating back to the 20th century B.C. that was unearthed in an Egyptian grave. Many visitors find its round eyes to be cute, and replicas are bestsellers at the museum shop.
When entering the exhibition hall, you will come across a large human-shaped wooden object in a glass display case. This is a coffin lid with fantastic drawings, discovered in Egypt.
Horus, an Egyptian deity of the sky with outspread wings, and the Egyptian goddess Isis are among those depicted on the lid. This well-preserved piece dates back to the 10th century B.C. and is a precious historical artifact.
Prince Mikasa (1915-2016), who researched Western history, Christianity and ancient Near Eastern history, made great contributions to the establishment of the center.
"To understand the West, it seems the prince tried to learn about the Christianity underlying Western cultures and about the ancient Near East where Christianity has its origins," said Naomi Kaneko, a curator at the center.
Visitors to the center will get a sense of the enormous impact that the Middle East had on Western culture.
■ The Middle Eastern Culture Center in Japan
The center was planned by Prince Mikasa (1915-2016) and opened in 1979 with the cooperation of Sazo Idemitsu, founder of Idemitsu Kosan Co., who donated his collections.
The center stores about 2,300 items. The attached Prince Mikasa Library has about 50,000 books, including some rare items.
Address: 3-10-31 Osawa, Mitaka, Tokyo
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Reservations are required by the day before a visit.
Admission: ¥1,000 for adults, ¥500 for university, high school students and senior citizens aged 65 or older. Free for junior high school students and younger.
Inquiries: (0422) 32-7111Speech
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