‘Neko – The Cat in Japanese Art’ is a temporary exhibition at the Japan Museum SieboldHuis in Leiden running until 5th July 2020. This exhibit had not had a great deal of publicity – I heard about it from a leaflet in Amsterdam’s Kattenkabinet – but it was reasonably full on a weekday afternoon.
The exhibition is a mix of artistic works ranging in age and style, but all featuring cats. It starts off with the brief information that cats were likely introduced to Japan in the 6th century, and guides you through their history in Japanese culture in the various rooms. Items on display include modern Japanese prints and photographs as well as historic and rare sketches, scrolls and artefacts. One room is dedicated to cats and women in Japan. The exhibition explains how the portrayal of cats changed in time with both evil monster cats and another section showing how images of cats were used in political propaganda in circumstances when it would have been illegal to protest using drawings of humans. Towards the end there is a giant bed with cat ears for you to relax on – providing of course you take off your shoes.
One Japanese cat- related icon the museum does explore is Hello Kitty, since as the exhibitors point out Hello Kitty is not supposed to represent a cat. But since Hello Kitty does look feline, many people think she is a cat and she is of Japanese origin, I would have found it cool to have a little more about her in the exhibits.
At the entrance to the museum is a small shop where you can buy postcards and cat books. Some of the pictures exhibited are by modem artists, meaning copies of these are only available from the Hotei Japanese Prints located upstairs. Unfortunately the one picture I would have liked to take home was around €350 so I left empty- handed. There were cheaper Japanese-inspired prints and cards available upstairs but not from this exhibition.
The Sieboldhuis is located around 10 minutes walk from Leiden station, or can also be reached via buses 1, 3 and 5. The museum is sign- posted so easy to find. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am-5pm. Adults pay €8.50 entrance or it’s free with a museumcard. In addition to the temporary exhibition they also show a short introductory film about the physician Philipp Franz von Siebold as will as displaying many of the items he brought back from his travels between 1823-1829 in Japan. Unless you take a guide, the video is more informative than many of the objects which are not very clearly labelled.
More information is of course available on their website https://www.sieboldhuis.org/en/exhibitions/neko-de-kat-in-de-japanse-kunst