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Where West Meets East

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An exhibit at The Children's Museum in Boston is shedding new light on the land of the rising sun.

"Teen Tokyo'' presents a teenager's perspective on Japanese pop culture and domestic life. The exhibit is the brainchild of Leslie Bedford, the museum's senior Japan developer-curator.

The idea came to her when, living in Japan with her husband and two children, she realized how much her 10-year-old son learned simply by observing street life and playing at the homes of his Japanese friends.

"He thought the subways were 'awesome,''' says Ms. Bedford.

Figuring that other children would enjoy looking at cityscapes rather than antique kimonos and ceremonial bells, Ms. Bedford began working with museum specialists and Japanese consultants in 1989, finally opening the $1 million exhibit last spring.

To enter the "Teen Tokyo'' exhibit, visitors walk through an authentic Tokyo subway car, complete with sliding doors and recorded background noise. Then they arrive at a simulated Tokyo shopping district, where students can sing along with pretaped songs in a karaoke booth, spar with a life-size plastic sumo wrestler, check out teenage fashion, and read the illustration packed comic books known as "manga.''

A section featuring Japanese home life, called "Tetsuo's Room,'' is designed to shatter a few myths about those industrious Japanese students. Through a sound, light, and video presentation, visitors observe Tetsuo playing a video game instead of studying, and hear him and his sister wrangling for possession of the television remote control.

"Some of the dialogue is in Japanese, but the kids know what they mean,'' adds Ms. Bedford.

The museum shop has also sold more than 2,000 educational manga comic books and teacher guides to schools across the United States and Canada, Ms. Bedford says.

"Most children who see 'Teen Tokyo' realize their Japanese counterparts are a lot like them,'' says Ms. Bedford.

Perhaps East and West shall meet through a mutual love of music, fashion, and technological toys, as long as American youths don't have to appreciate the finer qualities of sushi.
--S.K.G.

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