This talk will explore the emergence of Japan as an identifiable brand at international exhibitions in the second half of the 19th century, together with the problems faced by Japanese authorities in managing the product.
Japanese objects were present from the first such exhibitions, midway through the century, and Japan itself became a constant presence from the 1860s on, in London, Paris, Vienna and the USA. The identification of an object or installation as Japanese, however, was cross-cut by two competing logics, each informed by distinct demands or desires. For Western audiences, Japan first appeared and continued to enchant as exotic miniature, a pre-industrial arcadia that allowed escape from the weary present. For Japanese authorities, however, the value of the Japanese past was its promise of an indigenous ground for the ascent to wealth and power, a claim that demanded a distinct but comparable and above all dynamic tradition. The two logics produced contrasting criteria for what could be seen as Japanese culture and so rather different installations, both claiming to be Japanese. The incommensurability was evident throughout the Meiji period, perhaps nowhere more so than in London in 1910. Despite efforts to overcome the dilemma in the early 20th, it continues to dog Japanese efforts to market themselves in the present.
The centenary of the Japan-British Exhibition - and the recent celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Japan's 'opening' to the West - provide a useful standpoint from which to reflect on an enduring problem.
Dr Angus Lockyer is currently Lecturer in the History of Japan and Chair of the Japan Research Centre at SOAS, University of London, where he teaches Japanese, East Asian and world history. He was educated and has taught in the UK and the US, receiving his PhD in History from Stanford University in 2000. He is currently completing a book manuscript, ‘The Spectacle of Development: Japan at the Exhibition, 1862-2005’, which explores the use of domestic and international exhibitions in and by Japan over the last 150 years. He is also beginning a new project on the history of Japanese golf. Recent articles include: 'Expo Fascism? Ideology, Representation, Economy'; 'The Logic of Spectacle c. 1970'; and 'National Museums and Other Cultures in Modern Japan'.