Past Exhibitions

Kaō: Early Japanese Handwritten Ciphers
February 8, 2022 - March 13, 2022

How can a person respond to the demand "Please identify yourself!"? In many cultures, one of the most dependable methods for verifying an individual's identity is analysis of the handwritten signature. In premodern Japan, Kaō served a very similar purpose. Kaō (literally "flower impressions") are a kind of handwritten cipher, or monogram, that first developed in the Heian period (794–1185) as a cursive and truncated form of one's written name. Even among members of the same family who wrote in a similar style, Kaō were never exactly the same and thus functioned as a highly individualized sign. This exhibition leads viewers deep into the world of the Kaō.

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