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”.
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:
And the Court of Progress taken from Flip Flap, the fairground ride:
There were scenes to represent the four seasons. Spring and Summer can be seen below:
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:
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.
The Japanese even built a mountain railway:
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.
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”.
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”.
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.
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.
It was an enormous, very successful exhibition and quite exhausting to visit.
Fiona Fowler, Hammersmith and Fulham Archives, volunteer