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The 16th century Japanese territorial lord Katō Kiyomasa wrote that a samurai’s only duty was to “grasp the long and the short swords and to die.” But during the Edo period (1603–1868), peacetime meant these badasses had mostly transformed into aristocratic bureaucrats—so it’s no wonder Western politicians identified with them. As the Land of the Rising Sun opened its borders in the 19th century, many samurai—who were literate and educated—began to study abroad, acting as emissaries for Japanese culture. In “Samurai: The Warrior Transformed,” National Geographic Museum explores this Western exchange, from 1860 to 1930, showing armor given to Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Theordore Roosevelt, as well as illustrations and photographs documenting these Bushido warriors’ interactions with the United States. But Kiyomasa would surely be sad to find out nobody lost a limb during these exchanges.
The exhibit is on view 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily to Sept. 3 at the National Geographic Museum, 1145 17th St. NW. $8. events.nationalgeographic.com. (202) 857-7588.