Several banners hung around the popular temple Wat Phnom inform visitors that there's an exhibition titled "The Dolls of Japan: Shapes of Prayer, Embodiments of Love", running until September 21 in the attached Culture and Fine Arts museum.
Inside, Chujo Kazuo, consultant for the Japanese Embassy, mentions that the exhibition is being held to commemorate the Mekong-Japan Exchange 2009, of which Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam are members of the Greater Mekong Sub-region. It is part of an intra-member cultural exchange programme focusing on the arts, language or education.
There're just 10 tables or shelves to display the 70 dolls, sporting various serene facial expressions, different poses and the kind of intricately detailed decorative dress that surely only the Japanese could master. There's a baby doll, a teenage one, a warrior complete with weapons, beautiful girls, sumo wrestlers - as well as dolls that look pure evil. But most of them look gentle, even though they may be equipped with fierce weaponry. Perhaps this is due to the beautiful traditional clothes the dolls are dressed in.
"An important characteristic is the dolls' beautiful colours, showing off the richness of our ancient costumes and pageantry," Kazuo said. He says that each doll in the exhibition has its own individual meaning, and relationship with the daily lives of Japanese people. They are not for kids to play with, but are principally works of art to be displayed and admired.
On the display tables signs in both English and Khmer appear beside each doll, informing visitors of the name and background of that particular figurine. Assistant at the Japanese cultural section Bunthan Charya says she doesn't know how many people will visit the exhibition during its 21 days, but she says "the more, the better!"
According to Charya, this is the third such doll exhibition in Cambodia. Although, just to even the cultural balance, Cambodian dolls, toy houses, miniature temples and traditional Khmer sculptures are displayed in another section of the centre.