The Japanese – British Exhibition 1910

Poster advertising the Japan-British Exhibition

Poster advertising the Japan-British Exhibition

A few weeks ago, the Fulham & Hammersmith Archives received an enquiry about the Ainu village at the Japanese-British exhibition of 1910.  This led me to a treasure trove of photographs and comments on Japan’s first major exhibition in the West held at White City in the summer of 1910.  It was designed to bring Japan to the attention of the British public and to emphasise the suitability of Japan as a worthy ally of Britain. There were tableaux of Japanese history, art displays, exhibits of the Japanese colonies, examples of rural village living and even a series of replica “famous gardens of Japan”.

Entrance to the Japanese Fair

Entrance to the Japanese Fair

The exhibition covered 140 acres and once through the main entrance the visitor passed into magnificent glass palaces, wonderful gardens and entertainment.

There was the Court of Honour:

Court of Honour

Court of Honour

And the Court of Progress taken from Flip Flap, the fairground ride:

Court of Progress

Court of Progress

There were scenes to represent the four seasons. Spring and Summer can be seen below:

Representation of Spring

Representation of Spring

Representation of Summer

Representation of Summer

About 8.5 million people visited the exhibition.  It gave the British public an opportunity to see “an unprecedented and extensive range of fine art from Japan of high quality” (Keiko Itoh The Japanese Community in Pre-War Britain).  Duncan Grant wrote to Maynard Keynes to say he had seen some of the “finest works of art he had ever seen” and “marvellous statues” though it is not clear whether he included statues such as this:

Statues in the garden

Statues in the garden

Visitors were entertained by acrobats, juggling and dancing.  The Sumo wrestlers were particularly popular.  They gave two demonstrations each day and it was the first time that they had been allowed to leave their own country.  Apparently their nudity caused some minor offense in Edwardian England — even though the wrestlers had donned drawers under their skimpy sporting garb.

Sumo wrestler

Sumo wrestler

The Japanese even built a mountain railway:

Mountain Railway seen from a distance

Mountain Railway seen from a distance

Mountain Railway upclose

Mountain Railway upclose

Most of the photographs in the Archive files were taken by a professional photographer but at some point someone had donated a photograph of their grandfather and his fellow workers who had worked on the railway at the Exhibition.

Workers, who helped build the Railway Mountain

Workers, who helped build the Railway Mountain

The Japanese gardens had to be constructed from scratch at the Exhibition site. Since authenticity was regarded as of the utmost importance, trees, shrubs, wooden buildings, bridges, and even stones were brought from Japan.  The Garden of Peace was “an exquisite example of the Japanese gardener’s art – a veritable poem and picture combined”.

Garden of Peace

Garden of Peace

In the northern portion of the grounds was the Garden of the Floating Islands.  This garden, although equally picturesque, differed in character from the first in that “it appealed to the lighter mood and seemed to invite gaiety and pleasure”.

Garden of Floating isles

Garden of Floating isles

The Garden of Peace is the only part of the exhibition to survive today and it remains as a feature within Hammersmith Park although in intervening years it became overgrown, reduced in size and lost a number of the original features. A small bridge is about all that is left.   In 2008 a project to restore the Garden of Peace was set up, and a large team of volunteers including a Japanese landscape architect worked to re-create the garden.  It now consists of two large ponds connected by a stone bridge with rocks forming a small waterfall; some of the original plants and trees brought from Japan in 1909 are still present.

Traditional Japanese people from Ainu and Uji.

Traditional Japanese people from Ainu and Uji villages.

A number of the postcards and cuttings relate to the ‘Ainu village’.  Members of the Ainu and the Uji villages were brought to London to show how the traditional people lived.  During the exhibition they lived at the White City site and spectators observed them going about their everyday lives.  They were an object of fascination as their lives were very different from the rest of Japanese society  Some Japanese visitors felt these displays were an embarrassment, depicting as they did the life of peasants in north east Japan.  This was not the impression that they wished Japan to convey to the western public.

Villagers sitting outside

Villagers sitting outside

Japanese villager outside a traditional house

Japanese villager outside a traditional house

It was an enormous, very successful exhibition and quite exhausting to visit.

Geisha women

Geisha women

Fiona Fowler, Hammersmith and Fulham Archives, volunteer

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2 Responses to The Japanese – British Exhibition 1910

  1. Pingback: The 1910 Japan-British Exhibition – what’s left? | Sequins and Cherry Blossom

  2. Jo Parsons says:

    My English grandmother met my Japanese grandfather at the exhibition. Takisabura Yamamura was demonstrating the making of samurai swords. He was 21st generation of swordmaker descended from the famous Masamune. The family still make swords in Japan today.

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