Art: Fierce Old Bird

The big hall seemed more like a temple than merely the exhibition gallery of Tokyo's Mitsukoshi department store. There, in hushed appreciation, some 30,000 viewers a day have shuffled for two weeks among the sculptured Buddhas, peered into sacred mirrors, gazed at ancient masks and paintings. Japan is one country where a show of art treasures can draw more people than generally turn out for a baseball game.

Many of the items on exhibit were glittering reminders of the Nara era (710-794 A.D.)—the golden age of Japanese art, when the Japanese were beginning...

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