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I HAD my most moving religious experience in Japan’s Little World. Though it calls itself a theme park, I’d term it an indoor-outdoor cultural museum.
Little World is about an hour’s drive north of Nagoya, which in turn is a 3-hour train ride west of Tokyo. Hardly a slam-dunk visit for Americans, but there are those who find themselves in the region (Toyota City is in Aichi Prefecture as well).
Its five halls have more than 6000 ethnological exhibits, many of them interactive. The Evolution Hall includes animated displays along with exhibits of fossils and early tools. In the Language Hall, there are kiosks that play recorded conversations in a multitude of the world’s languages. The Technology Hall is curated in the broadest sense, everything from cooking utensils to means of transportation. The Society Hall focuses on mankind’s rites of birth, marriage, family and death. The Values Hall looks at the spiritual side.
A walk of 1 1/2 miles ambles through the outdoor exhibits, each devoted to a typical home somewhere in the world. These are actual structures purchased in-situ, dismantled, shipped to and reassembled in Little World.
It’s quite amazing. Among others, I visited a Japanese Ishigaki Island house, one of a Korean landlord, Yao and Akha houses from Thailand, a Kerala village of India, a Buddhist monastery from Nepal, a Kassena compound of west Africa, a Nyakyusa house of Tanzania, a French Alsatian farm, a Samoan house, the home of a Balinese nobleman, a Peruvian hacienda and a Tlingit house from Alaska.
Little World opened in 1983, and it continues as a work in progress. “The city of Istanbul, Turkey” is scheduled to be completed in 2013. Admission for adults is ¥1600 (about $20); seniors ¥1200; high school students ¥1000; younger school kids ¥600. Hours are 9:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m., but vary by season; closed Wednesday-Thursday, December-February. There’s a website, www.littleworld.jp, in Japanese or English.
My religious experience came late in my visit in the Values Hall. Exhibition cases contained artifacts of many religions. By design, I’m sure, equal coverage was given to each practice, the world’s five major religions earning no extra exhibit space.
Just by chance, the place was free of energetic school kids, cool and serene in subdued light. An audio system played ever so quietly, Gregorian chants familiar to me, others less so but somehow still satisfying. As I rose step by step, I knew that, despite all our differences of evolution, technology, language and society, we are all one humanity. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012