Originally opened in December 1986, the Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art was the first major gallery of its kind in the UK. The intent was to showcase highlights of the V&A’s international collection of art and design, which the museum had built up since it was founded in 1852. The Culture Trip headed to the refurbished gallery to see the 550 works in newly curated displays illustrating the gallery’s Japanese craftsmanship and artistic creativity.
Japan is one of the most prosperous and technologically advanced nations in the world; their artistic achievements have long been widely acknowledged along with their appetite for innovation. The history and traditions of Japan are covered and displayed throughout the exhibition’s themes: religion and ritual, arts of the samurai, tea drinking, theatre and performance, fashionable dress, dress accessories, lacquer and elegant pursuits, ukiyo-e and the graphic arts, engagement with the West, Imperial Japan, folk craft and the modern and contemporary. Head curator Rupert Faulkner and his team comprising Anna Jackson, Gregory Irvine, Julia Hutt and Josephine Rout have reconfigured the space by updating lighting, graphics and display case interiors, thus, facilitating the newly added modern and contemporary objects.
Modern and Contemporary
On display in the modern and contemporary category of the exhibition is the first portable stereo Walkman designed and manufactured by Sony in 1979 — as is a Hello Kitty rice cooker by Sakar International, Inc., 2014. Hello Kitty is internationally recognised and defines Japanese cute; the Hello Kitty products were originally aimed at pre-adolescent girls but now span all age groups. The extent of Hello Kitty’s popularity has fed Japanese cuteness into worldwide popular culture.
The Arts of Samurai
From 1185 to 1868, a warrior class known as the samurai ruled Japan. The arts of the samurai section of the exhibition holds weapons made to show the symbol of the warriors authority. Swords and sword fittings were perfectly formed steel weapons that combined beauty with function. A selection of short and long swords (daisho) dating as far back as 1600-1700 is on display.
Religion and Ritual
Religion and ritual is extremely prevalent to Japanese culture. The indigenous religion of Japan is Shinto (The Way of The Gods), based on worship of the deities of nature, known as Kami. Buddhism was introduced to the country from mainland Asia in the 6th century; it did not seek to replace Shinto but to co-exist, even to this day. With Buddhism came paintings, sculptures, metalwork and textiles. Decorative collectables of Buddhism are presented to exhibition viewers; one highlight is a hanging garland (Keman) with lotus flowers (1650-1750) — the human purity given from the lotus flower exiles the material world. A Shinto altar (2014) and Mask of Okina (2000) are further objects found in the religion and ritual realm.
Tea drinking, introduced from China, became popular in Japan during the 13th century. A tea ceremony (chanoyu) remains to be a formal procedure often undertaken twice throughout the ceremony. Later, Japan introduced a different practice — steeped tea drinking — that holds its own procedures. However, both types of tea drinking have generated the making of a variety of ceramic utensils, metalworks and lacquer. A Tea bowl (1625-75) is included in the vast array of tea-ranged objects available for browsing throughout this traditional category.
The kimono was the principal item of dress for both men and women during the Edo period (1615-1868) in Japan. It was the pattern of the garment rather than the cut that was significant; colours, motifs and decorative techniques were indicators that determined the gender, wealth, status and taste among the country’s citizens. The elegant dress section of the exhibition homes differing styled kimonos: outer kimono for young women (uchikake), summer kimono for a woman (katabira) and kimono for young women (furisode.) The Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art has been enhanced to resemble Japan’s strong history and budding future. Fine collectables have been gathered to embody Japan’s high cultural and artistic standing across the globe. Packed with Japanese gems, there is a lavish bounty of inspiration to feast your eyes on. Admission to The Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art is free. The V&A is open daily 10:00 – 17:45 and until 20:00 every Friday. V&A, Cromwell Rd, London, UK, +44 20 7942 2000
By Danielle WoodDanielle is the art editor for the London hub of The Culture Trip. She has a fascination with living a life full of creativity. Theatrical soul. Cinematic admirer. Champion frolicker. Avid foodie. Sunset enthusiast.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.