Exporting imaginaries of Empire: Navigating soft diplomacy surrounding Japanese depictions of Manchuria at the Chicago World’s fair, 1933-34.

The puppet state of Manchukuo, created in 1932, was advertised by the Japanese Empire as a state “autonomous from Western influence”.1 This narrative was consistently reinforced through exhibitions, pamphlets and films produced by the Japanese government. To reinforce this narrative on a global stage, the Japanese invested a small portion of their exhibit at the World’s Chicago Fair in 1933 through a Manchuria exhibit in partnership with the Southern Manchuria Railway Company (fig.1). Concurrently, an American exhibit of the Golden Temple of Jehol (fig. 2), a province invaded by the Japanese Kwantung army and also an annexe of Manchuria at the time, was an expensively replicated and highly popular exhibit at the fair.2 This article uses Shepherdson-Scott’s work on the World’s Chicago fair supported by pamphlets and images of the event to illustrate that political diplomatic pursuits were consolidated through visual displays of authority.2 These imaginaries of Manchurian and Chinese territories served to assert specific narratives about contested legitimacy of Japanese authority in Manchuria at this time.

Defined by Young as the ‘Jewel in Japan’s Imperial Crown’, Manchukuo developed into a significant and profitable portion of the Japanese empire, however, public knowledge in the US about of the role of Japan in Manchukuo was controlled, Manchukuo was not recognised as a state by the US government and Japanese involvement in this territory was considered aggressive.3 Soft power, this is co-opting rather than coercion, in the form of elements of Japanese culture such as Japanese gardens or the exportation of travel guidebooks and pamphlets to private tour companies across Europe and the United States was widely accepted and proliferated in public discourses on Japan. In contrast, the acclimatisation of western audiences to imaginaries of Japanese Imperial power was confronted and countered by the US. Images of Japan were only accepted in the form that they were presented to a western audience when they were a exotic or visually appealing, thus, the trustees of the A Century for Progress fair capitalised on this reality by exoticising the Temple of Jehol and reinforced its Chinese heritage and the sovereignty of China. By challenging Japanese associations with the Manchurian Railway company and its assimilation of ‘Manchukuo’ into Japanese notions of modernisation and mobility, the temple of Jehol publicly rebuffed the relevance of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and intertwined national politics corporate public relations within the context of the fairground.2

Figure 1: Illustration of the Japan Exhibition complex, Manchurian pavilion is visible on the far right (1933-34).4

Figure 2: The golden Temple of Jehol at the Century of Progress World’s fair 1933-34.5


Figure 3: Cover of the Brochure for the Southern Manchuria Railway exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933.6

In this period following the 1931 ‘Manchuria Incident’ when the legitimacy of Manchukuo and the role of Japanese occupation and the Kwantang army still proved to be an elephant in the room, these displays of consolidation and reputation by the Japanese and the US governments respectively reflected the sumbilinal power play between the two nations over the legitimacy of Japanese dominance in Manchukuo.2 In the official Southern Manchurian Railway brochure (fig.4), relations between the US and Manchuria regarding trade is phrase neutrally, ”Japan is serving as the major trade exchanger between the United States, and Manchuria and China” and yet it still alludes to Japanese hegemony in the region.7 Moreover, images in the brochure include, the capital city under construction by the Japanese, the Japanese Kwantung Army Government offices, and the central circle of government buildings in the capital, Changchun.8 In contrast to the cultural statement in the form of the temple of Jehol which gained significant praise for its dazzling quality and drew attention from visitors because of its beauty, the presentation of the Manchuria exhibit focused on acclimatising the American audience with Japan as an intermediary between the US and China/Manchuria. Whilst the temple challenged the political borders of Manchukuo and the authority of the Japanese exhibition, the production of knowledge that associated Japan with significant political and economic stakes in Manchuria’s capital and infrastructure and the physical positioning of the Manchurian exhibit within the Japanese exhibition proved to be a spatially powerful illustration of their authority in the region and their goals for the future.

Figure 4: Brochure for the Southern Manchuria Railway exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933.6

In conclusion, the overt retaliation against Japanese constructions of Manchukuo at the Chicago World’s fair by the American embassy illustrate the limits applied to Japanese overseas diplomatic pursuits. The competing narratives created by the US to challenge Japanese assertions of Imperial power highlight that beyond military and policy based rebuttals of Japanese occupation of Manchuria in the early 1930’s, alternative and creative challenges to Japanese power were established within the public eye designed both to covertly manipulate public opinions of the power of the Japanese government but also to intimidate Japanese authority on foreign soil.

  1. Louise Young,  Japan’s Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism (London, 1998), p.1, p.22. []
  2. Kari Shepherdson-Scott, ‘Conflicting Politics and Contesting Borders: Exhibiting Japanese Manchuria at the Chicago World’s Fair, 1933-34’, The Journal of Asian Studies 74:3, (2015), pp.539-564. [] [] [] []
  3. Young,  Japan’s Total Empire, p.22. []
  4. Illustration of the Japan Exhibition complex, Manchurian pavilion is visible on the far right (1933-34), A century of Progress exposition in Chicago, 1933-34.  Accessed at: Yale University Library. []
  5. Image of The golden Temple of Jehol at the Century of Progress World’s fair 1933-34, Accessed at the Art Institute of Chicago, https://www.artic.edu/artworks/235402/golden-temple-of-jehol (Accessed 5/02/2024). []
  6. Cover of the Brochure for the Southern Manchuria Railway exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, Available at: http://travelbrochuregraphics.com/blog/2014/01/09/brochure-south-manchuria-railway-from-the-1933-chicago-worlds-fair/ (Accessed: 05/02/2024). [] []
  7. Brochure: Southern Manchurian Railway form the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, Available at: http://travelbrochuregraphics.com/blog/2014/01/09/brochure-south-manchuria-railway-from-the-1933-chicago-worlds-fair/. (Accessed: 05/02/2024). []
  8. Brochure for the Southern Manchuria Railway exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933, Available at: http://travelbrochuregraphics.com/blog/2014/01/09/brochure-south-manchuria-railway-from-the-1933-chicago-worlds-fair/ (Accessed: 05/02/2024). []

Accessing the ‘Other’: Brooklyn’s Botanical Gardens as an access point to the ‘Land of the rising sun’

By examining the constriction of access to and behavior within the Japanese garden, situated in the Brooklyn Botanic gardens, I argue that the Garden’s commissioners aimed to maintain Japanese ‘otherness’.  By using an additional behavioral standard’s and enforcing a code of conduct deemed unnecessary across the rest of Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. By controlling how the Japanese garden was perceived and restricting how it was used by the public, the gardens’ commissioners established their authority over writing Japanese culture in an American context. 1 This article uses images, maps, manuals and entrance signs of Japanese parks in western foreign countries to illustrate that despite the absence of an enclosure garden as a consistent tradition in Japanese culture, in the west, Japanese gardens are enclosed and purposefully detached from the larger garden. The separation and containment of Japanese gardens in the West highlights the containment and fetishization of these spaces and also the use of isolation as a form of exerting power over the the translation of Japanese culture in Western public discourse.2

Figure 1: Image of the Flowing Crab in Japanese Garden from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record, 19343

Rather than being immersed in the surrounding context of a public park, the Japanese garden is frequently isolated and this practice is justified by marketing the Japanese garden as a superior garden and yet it perpetuates a hierarchical binary between ‘the west and the rest’.4 For the Japanese garden in Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, established in 1915 and designed by Takeo Shiota, restrictions over behavior and use of space have constrained it to become a disciplinarian space.  the Boston Botanic Gardens enclose the Japanese garden with a wooden fence which is justified as an element of tradition, however, there a plethora of cases in Japan where this does not apply, and this wall was erected fifteen years after the Japanese garden was officially opened.5 The physicality of the separation between conceptions of Japanese horticulture in the eyes of American observers comparatively to its ‘authentic’ purpose within Japanese culture. Frequent financial support provided by  the Japanese government to support the establishment of Japanese gardens in western cities highlights that whilst the Japanese government intended to enforce soft power through diplomatic advances like financial support to establish Japan within the vision of the American Garden-observer, commissioners who controlled public parks made significant spatial choices which limited the assimilation of Japanese tastes into American gardens by consistently organizing Japanese gardens as a traditional, formalized novelty.

Specific, traditional behavioral codes were enforced on entrance to the Brooklyn’s Japanese Garden which operated to restrict creativity and freedom of movement in the space.  Signs around the garden advised visitors to ‘stroll’, there are no benches and it is stipulated that walking on the grass is prohibited.6 Similarly, children were to be accompanied at all times in fear that they would disrupt the tranquil atmosphere and case noise and disrupt the reflective atmosphere.7 The active performance of enjoyment due to the limited interaction allowed with the garden restricts it from becoming a “lived space” where people are able to create memorable interactions and explore freely. By exoticizing the Japanese Garden the gardens commissioners removed its capacity to integrate into Brooklyn’s spatial politics and local culture because it was associated with the foreign and unfamiliar behaviors and sensations enforced by the park itself.

The mystification of the components of the Japanese Garden and their contribution to its cultural significance in turn establish the authority of curating the general knowledge accessible to the American public regarding these spaces to the commissioner of the Botanic gardens. In the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbook on Japanese gardens from 1968, the Japanese garden sis described as illustrating, “the peculiar attitude of the Japanese towards life, in which they join nature with everyday living’.8 By presenting the Japanese ‘mentality’ as separate and therefore distant, foreign, exoticized and ultimately for consumption the language used in this handbook highlights how a powerful construction of knowledge through the containment of the Japanese garden as a phenomenon purposefully separated from the holistic botanic garden structure served to establish a binary in the American mind between western, familiar conceptions of the use and behavior within a park or garden and the ‘otherness’ of the Japanese garden.  Indeed, the language used also served to describe ‘western’ and ‘eastern’ understandings of garden composition in opposition to each other, ‘the symmetry, uniformity and rectilinearity of Western gardens is disregarded in the Japanese garden’ .9 Resultantly, the western authorities prevailed in establishing control over the ‘otherness’ of the Japanese garden within the context of the public park. By dispensing mystified, vague and shifting details on the significance of the stones, lanterns and bridges present in the Japanese garden, the casual romantic exoticism of the ‘orient’ in American spatial politics prevailed.

To conclude, information and behaviors inscribed onto the Japanese garden by commissioners and local councils in an American context have served to fundamentally alter the conception of the Japanese garden and thus the curated image of Japan ‘mentality’ within the American observer. The interests of local authorities to present the Japanese garden as a concentrated impression of the ‘core qualities’ of an exoticized Japan conflicted with the assimilation of Japanese culture into the American observer that was desired by the Japanese government.

  1. Christian Tagsold, Spaces in Translation: Japanese Gardens and the West (Philadelphia, 2017), p.137. []
  2. Tagsold, Spaces in Translation, p.138. []
  3. Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record, (Brooklyn, 1934), p. 10 []
  4. Tagsold, Spaces in Translation, p.137. []
  5. Tagsold, Spaces in Translation, p.127. []
  6. Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Kan Yashiroda,  Handbook on Japanese Gardens and miniature Landscapes (Brooklyn, 1968), p.6. []
  7. Tagsold, Spaces in Translation, p.130. []
  8. Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Kan Yashiroda,  Handbook on Japanese Gardens and miniature Landscapes (Brooklyn, 1968), p.6. []
  9. Brooklyn Botanic Garden and Kan Yashiroda,  Handbook on Japanese Gardens, p.9. []

Korea through Terry’s (through the Imperial Japanese) Looking Glass

To borrow from Edward Said, whose writings occupy an almost exhaustive historiography on his own, “contrapuntal reading” in literature invites the reader to ponder writing actively says and does not say about one’s disposition and blind spots. Insofar as scholars agree that tourism both reflected and reinforced efforts to build and maintain overseas empires,1 officially-affiliated travel guidebooks are clear opportunities for discursive analysis of the “self” and “other.” The historiography of Japanese colonialism in Korea is no different.2 The concerted Japanese attempt to market the Korean peninsula for foreign revenue, I argue, is best evinced by Terry’s Japanese Empire.3 However, by examining the presentation of Korea within a Western-facing guidebook of Imperial Japan, I argue that the tenuousness of “Othering” in an “Occidental”-facing book evinces Hom’s clarification of imperialism as “textured by uneven gradations of sovereignty and sliding scales of differentiation that bind colonial past and imperial presence.”4

Firstly, Terry argues that Japan is as geographically and culturally specific as it is “typical” for an Oriental entity. This discourse is presented both in terms of climate and geography. On page lxi (of a 283-page long preliminary information section) Terry argues that it is ‘quite those of our dreams’ to see Japan and ‘learn its charm is equivalent to drinking the waters of Guadalupe.’ Contemporaneously, the Korean landscape is both littered with ‘limp and enervated Europeans from the torrid south’ while devoid of a ‘good gov’t to make it one of the most opulent countries of the gorgeous East.’ (698-99) In terms of culture, the text assumes fixed profiles of the tourist and those viewed by tourists. For Terry, there is a single, tourist profile of a traveller who has embarked on a long journey from Western Europe, Australia, or America, and the essentialism of the other even does not spare countries from the Mediterranean. Conversely, the object of the rigidly defined “Korean” man is impenetrable and physiognomically fixed. “[Like] the Chinaman, he has, in his fathomless conceit and besotted ignorance, a sturdy and unshakable faith in his own impeccability,” among other pejorative judgements. (719) This essentialist discourse appears indistinguishable from the liberal comparisons drawn to men from Spain and specifically South Italy insofar as poor cultural traits are concerned. In contrast, the Japanese man is “non-controversial and dignified” and Japan is made of ten different “native races [that] dwell within the Japanese Empire.” (clv-clvi)

Yet, what Terry says about Korean history becomes problematised beyond the level of the “Occidental” perspective. On one hand, the hierarchy of civilisations is clear when Terry presents an entity characterised by corruption and ineptitude. Terry particularly describes the Three Kingdoms period as replete with each kingdom having (apparently) ‘episodes of national triumph and reverse,’ (bold is mine) and that the source of civilisation in Korea eventually derived from Japan. Yet, even this hierarchy was ‘only replaced in the latter half of the 19th cent. By the higher civilisation of Europe.’ (709) Finally, the Japanese ‘introduction of civilisation and enlightenment’ is a tangible process that can be tracked if one requests the Government General of Chosen’s ‘Annual Report on Reforms and Progress in Korea’.

On another level, Terry’s unabashed, liberal reference to Joseph H. Longford’s The Story of Korea reflects the ways in which imperial tourism refracts Japanese imperial knowledge about Korea. According to a publicly available copy of Longford’s 1911 text, Longford relied on the goodwill of the Japanese Ambassador, the Consul-General in London, as well as the Secretaries of the Embassy and Consulate-General “in elucidating obscure points in ancient history.”5 Longford’s preface sums up the confluence of two imperial interests: Japan converted “potentialities into realities of industrial and commercial wealth” as Britain invests in “the future status of our ally and in the political balance of the Far East.” The section on Korean history as a Japanese Protectorate reiterated the narrative of imperial salvation and modernity amidst Korean corruption and dysfunction.6

This analysis of a simple and almost uncritical presentation of the history of Korea in Terry’s guidebook shows how imperial texts have aligned to reinforce the Japanese imperial image of Korea, even as Japan was still subject to Terry’s Orientalist writing. Even in a colonial model of “Occidental” tourist-centric writing, this confluence of editorialising and knowledge transmission reinforces how Japan moderated and negotiated Orientalist treatment, leaving Korea twice removed from the mental hierarchy of Terry’s archetypal Western tourist.

  1. Shelley Baranowski et al., “Tourism and Empire,” Journal of Tourism History 7, no. 1–2 (May 4, 2015): 100–130. []
  2. Hyung Pai, “Travel Guides to the Empire. The Production of Tourist Images in Colonial Korea” in Laurel Kendall (ed.) Consuming Korean Tradition in Early and Late Modernity: Commodification, Tourism, and Performance (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2010), 65-87. []
  3. Philip Terry, Terry’s Japanese Empire: A Guidebook for Travellers (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1914). []
  4. Shelley Baranowski et al., “Tourism and Empire,” 126. []
  5. Joseph H. Longford, The Story of Korea (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1911), v-vii). []
  6. Longford, The Story of Korea, 351-365. []

Playing the Modern Shufu: Sugoroku, Women’s Magazines and the Construction of the Ideal Modern Japanese Housewife and Home

The focus of this blog post is how the traditional game sugoroku was utilised by popular Japanese women’s magazines to aid in their purpose of educating and promoting women to the ideal of the modern woman, family and hone. Both progressive and conservative in aspects, the game is ideal as an accessible educational tool as its tactile, playable   nature gives the illusion of agency and control for its players, but ultimately the boards end in one fixed, limited goal which, in the gendered context of Pre-war Japan, was being rewarded for being  a good modern housewife and mother, either with fashion or by a happy family. Largely the examples will be drawn from New Years editions of Fujin Sekai (Women’s World) from 1912-1919, however when relevant a few other sugoroku boards will referenced from a similar context.  

In the early to mid 20th century in Japan, women’s magazine acted as a key tool in shaping and promoting the idea of the modern Japanese woman and the modern Japanese home. This was articulated in a number of ways, including instructive articles, recipes, advice columns and educational illustrations and pictures. Media played an important role in controlling how modern Western ideas could fit into Japanese traditions and how Japanese cultural strategies fitted with Western practices.  Indeed, Jordan Sands comments that media potentially played an even more crucial role in the Japanese modernisation process before WW1 than the West as, unlike the latter,  modernisation was first experienced as an outside foreign influence rather than an immediate consequence of industrialisation.  Consequently, images of mass consumerism were experienced in Japan before mass consumerism itself (1).  Therefore, before WW1 these magazines acted as aspirational guides to a lifestyle in transition which were not yet fully achievable. 

The rise of these popular woman’s magazines coincided with educational policies that expanded women’s access to literacy and higher schooling. Some magazines in fact, saw their role as covering subjects which they viewed the women’s education system was lacking in. Educators and intellectuals wrote articles providing moral and intellectual guidance to higher school graduate, although they did also eventually target lower middle and working class women. One of the earliest mass circulation women’s magazines was Fujin sekai (Woman’s World, 1906) which was considered the leading magazine for the ordinary woman and, Barbara Sato argues, was the true pioneer of housewife centred magazines. focusing on women’s life after marriage, specialising in family orientated articles (2).  Given Fujin Sekai ordinary women orientated  demographic, and the reality that only a limited number of families could afford to have professional housewives, the portrayal of Shufu was largely aspirational ideal, than a grounded reality.  Indeed, a key aim of Masuda Giichi, the editor in chief of the magazine, was to promote a popularised conception of self-cultivation in his readership, one that would allow personal fulfilment through practical strategies not available through the experience of women’s education system. Evidently, this was responded to well by female readers, as a Tokyo based survey in 1922 found that 70% of participants subscribed to women’s magazines because of their focus on self-cultivation (3). While, this practical agency to shape one’s own identity might seem a progressive break in literature for women, Giichi’s overall philosophy was that women’s fulfilment was only a step in woman’s ultimate mission was to be a good wife and a mother, and thus her self-cultivation was largely contained to the space of the home (4).  This brand of controlled agency and self-expression is made manifest in their chosen medium of sugoroku. 

 To understand why sugoroku was chosen as a strategy for these magazines, its important to provide some background context on the activity. Sugoroku is a traditional game in Japan which originated in two forms. The first ban-sugoroku was a game close to backgammon imported from China in 7th century which fell into obscurity, the other was the more popular e-sugoroku which emerged in the 13th century and was a largely image-based game.  The gameplay, most closely resembling snakes and ladders, involves players beginning at singular/different start place, rolling a dice, landing on an image, and then following the instructions on said image. The aim is to end at the singular/different end points. The below examples, perhaps because they had a firm educational narrative to push, seem to have one single start and end point. Cheap and easy to make, they found popularity in the Meiji period in a variety of different magazines, covering a range of religious, historical, social and political topics. The main examples listed below are from Fujin Sekai, and the majority of them are from special New Years Day editions.  This temporal conformity is telling given that sugoroku was considered a classic New Years day pastime for all the family (5). This highlights why sugoroku should be seen as a powerful educational tool in the magazines arsenal, because it was not only a highly accessible in terms of age and literacy,  but also because it ingrained expectations of the modern housewife and the modern home not just to women readers, but to their entire family. 


Kawabata Ryushi, Nijuyon Toki Katei, Fujin Sekai, 1912, accessed via Richard Neylon, Richard Neylon Rare Books, 12/11/2023


Kawabata Ryushi. Katei Kyoiku Sugoroku,  Fujin Sekai, 1915, accessed via 

Richard Neylon, Between Black Ships and B-29s (richardneylon.com) 12/11/2023 


Akashi Seiichi, Katei Ju Ni Kagetsu Sugoroku, Fujin Sekai, 1917, accessed via 

Richard Neylon, Between Black Ships and B-29s (richardneylon.com) 12/11/2023

Akashi Seiichi, Fujin Nama Hi Tate Sugoroku,  Fujin Sekai, 1918 , accessed via 

Richard Neylon, Between Black Ships and B-29s (richardneylon.com) 12/11/2023

Akashi Seiichi. Kodakara Sugoroku, Fujin Sekai, 1919, accessed via 

Richard Neylon, Between Black Ships and B-29s (richardneylon.com) 12/11/2023

Three of the five examples are structured around the idea of the day/year of the life of a busy housewife. The two exceptions are Fujin Nama Hi Tate and Katei Kyoiku, which tracks a women’s life from birth to adulthood. These Sugoroku boards are also the only games whose end goal isn’t a happy family, but becoming a fashionable, presumably wealthy, modern woman. Before noting the similarities in games, a notable absence from all the above Sugoroku boards is any orientation in terms of location with only minimal references to home interiors. Perhaps this is because the magazine influenced interior aesthetic through other means – photographs – or at this stage interior design wasn’t yet a focus in these magazines – although intriguingly Katei Ju Ni Kagetsu board has a panel of a woman painting a surface – but the central focus here seems to be  teaching spatial practices in the home rather than instructing how to shape the home explicitly. Images that seem to appear in all of the boards are cooking (often multi-generational) cleaning (most commonly laundry or cleaning the floor), figures in windows (with activities being performed on either side of the window), and, perhaps most progressively, reading and writing and the teaching of these skills to children. Elements of modernity that can be seen through the above trends are: the cooking that seems to be being performed standing up rather than the traditional position of on the floor, and similarly in Katei Ju Ni Kagetsu and Kodakara boards, there is a practice of family tea/meal gatherings, rather than the traditional individual dinner trays for the patriarch (6). Notably however, in the case of Kodakara’s panel, while the wife appears to be above the rest of the family, ultimately only the patriarch is seated in the new furniture of the armchair. The Shufu may have been the household manager, but she was still under a patriarchal system. The imagery of the window and its emphasis of what’s inside and outside seems to play into the discourse of private and public sphere that the concept of the home initiated.  Finally, the promotion of literacy and continued education throughout a women’s life, possibly speaks most clearly to the theme of self-cultivation.

It’s worth noting three of these works are by the same artist, and so its valuable to look at examples from other artists and other publications. 


Fujimoto Katao. [Jitsuyo Oryori Kondate Manga Sugoroku]. Tokyo, Fujin Sekai 1926, accessed via Richard Neylon, Richard Neylon Rare Books, 12/11/2023 

Despite its focus on cooking, this board has many of the same elements as listed above. There are two notable elements of this design however, firstly is the presence of the dining table, a new furniture edition, and more importantly,  a panel that indicates a man’s involvement in household world (7).  Whether this is a remanent from more traditional times when household labour wasn’t so clearly divided by gender, or a reflection that such a division was unrealistic even in ‘modern’ times, it’s an noteworthy image given the strict roles established in previous boards. Indeed, it is not out of the realm of possibility Sugoroku boards were used for subversive purposes. 


Maeda Masujiro. Onna Tenko Sugoroku, Osaka 1915, accessed via  Richard Neylon, Richard Neylon Rare Books, 12/11/2023 

While graphic gender role reversals were often used for antifeminist purposes, the abject horror and disgust on the man’s face at undertaking these household tasks seems a compelling argument for the inequality of the household labour and women’s submissive role. 

 While examples like the above can be speculated on, many of the boards did seem to be conservative in tone. This was not just seen within the framework of educational women’s magazines, but also in a commercial framework. 


Shimizu Taigakubo, Denki Kyoiku Sugoroku, Katei no Denki, 1927, accessed via   Richard Neylon, Richard Neylon Rare Books, 12/11/2023

This sugoroku board by the Household Electricity magazine evidently promotes modernity through the numerous new technologies it highlights, and additionally through its emphasis of hygiene iterated through the new presence of the cleaning and cooking frock apron. More striking however, is that it doesn’t just promote this new technology through images of aspirational lifestyles, but also by the danger of not innovating. In this board more so than the others examined in this post, there is the presence of characters making right and wrong choices, Making sensible proactive steps will result in the goal of a happy family, but passivity and not staying up to date could result in a wife being beaten. This sugoroku then highlights the more brutal tactics magazines will take to achieve their agenda of modernisation and consumerism, 

Ultimately, then sugoroku could act as varied and evocative strategy in the magazines, and the wider society’s, construction of the aspirational ideal of the modern housewife and modern home. In the period before mass consumerism had fully taken shape in Japan, these games largely emphasised spatial practices for women to undertake. While the promotion of literacy and education spoke to some genuine desire to offer women opportunities of personal fulfilment, these practices largely worked to make the woman the ideal wife and mother which, amongst other strategies, included incorporating foreign ‘modern’ practices into the home – cooking standing up, cooking with an apron and collective family meals. Overall sugoroku, specifically those produced for a publication, provides a rich source of analysis about gender, family and home in 20th century Japan, particularly because it was highly accessible, and it was played as a family unit. 

(1) Jordan Sand, House and Home in Modern Japan: Reforming Everyday Life 1880-1930, (Harvard University Press, 2005), p.14

(2) Barbara Sato,  “Gender, consumerism and women’s magazines in interwar Japan.” In Routledge handbook of Japanese media (Routledge, 2018, pp. 39-50, pp.41-42

(3) Sato, ‘Gender, Consumerism’, p. 46

(4) Ibid.

(5) Flickinger, Susan, Barbara Podkowka, and Lori Snyder. “A Window into Modern Japan: Using Sugoroku Games to Promote the Ideal Japanese Subject in the Early 20th Century.” (2015), pp.1-9, p.1

(6)  Sand, House and Home, p.84, p.73-74

(7) Ibid, p.35


Keen to be clean: Sanitation reforms in the “diseased city” of Colonial Keijō

Hygiene rituals in the city of Seoul – known as Keijō during the Japanese occupation – were formally institutionalised and led by police forces bi-annually during the Japanese occupation of the peninsula in 1910 until the end of Japanese occupation in 1945.  The power over sanitation and welfare policy was transferred from the Home Ministry of Sanitation Bureau to the Police Supervisory Board in 1912.1 This article will analyse the sanitation chapter of the Annual Report on Reforms and Progress in Korea by the Government-General in 1913-14 to outline the structural failings of colonial policy and the contradictory nature of government rhetoric which promised the assimilation of Seoul’s Korean citizens into a hygienic Japanese city and simultaneously implemented a Japanese-settler-centric programme of sanitation reform.2 The Governor-General of Seoul aimed to produce clean streets and active citizens who they wanted to condition into a habit of self-regulated cleaning. This article maps the enforcement of policed hygiene standards in Seoul’s densely populated residential areas and their racially charged origins.3 Although reports by the Police Supervisory Board imply that enforcing cleaning was introduced to encourage residents to associate cleanliness with their health, this assertion assumes prior knowledge that would enable the unification of cleanliness with health.4 In contrast, Korean newspapers make it clear that the monetary cost of non-compliance and the avoidance of aggravating the police force were the factors motivating residents, not a consciousness surrounding sanitation5

Government reports consistently reflect the Japanese officials’ prioritisation of the Japanese expatriate population, who were more susceptible to illness,  despite their relatively higher wealth level and capacity to install household waste disposal and hygienic food disposal, were at the forefront of policy and the construction of service to support sanitation improvements6 The Annual Report on the Reforms and Progress in Korea in 1913-14 highlights that a series of epidemic diseases broke out on the Korean Peninsula in 1913 like cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, diphtheria and smallpox.  Whilst the report highlights that there was a 160-person decrease in the number of deaths compared to 1912, the report is clear that there is a significantly higher number of Japanese settlers who reported epidemic cases than Koreans. For example, 1,250 Japanese caught typhoid fever and 284 died, comparatively, 700 Koreans caught typhoid fever and only 86 died of the disease.7 The report’s data emphasises that colonial policy, which enforced police-imposed standards of hygiene,  aimed to protect Japanese settlers by mobilising the Korean population, rather than establishing constructive sanitation systems that would tangibly benefit Korean citizen and align with the government’s assimilation rhetoric.8

Chart from the Annual Report on Reforms and Progress in Korea 1913-14, Epidemic diseases in Choson

Figure 1: Chart explains the number of Japanese, Korean, and foreign people with epidemic diseases and the number of people who died from those diseases. Chart from the Annual report on reforms and Progress in Korea 1913-14.9

Furthermore, the report states that to tackle these epidemic diseases “qualified Japanese physicians [will be] attached to police stations to attend to public sanitation”. The draconian method of police enforcing semi-annual cleanups was an intrusive manner through which the government restructured Korean notions of cleanliness and government reports suggest that this was done with little resistance.10 However, evasion of government officials regularly occurred due to the implementation of hospital quarantine and the enforcement of a treatment plan for Koreans once they had informed officials of their symptoms. From a cultural perspective, Koreans also deeply feared dying outside of their homes because this was a space where they believed spirits could come to venerate them after death.11  An overarching insensitivity to the social and cultural consciousness of Korean citizens curbed the efficiency of colonial policy and directly contradicted the government’s assimilation project. This can be illustrated further in the measures taken to sanitise the streets and sewage systems of Korean populated areas of Seoul.

The reports served the government by reconstructing national understandings of city management by delegitimised Korean notions of health and sanitation. In section 122, the report states that “numerous natives who only know old-fashioned Chinese methods and nothing of modern medical science”. In contrast to the government’s proliferation of Korean incompetence, the Seoul Sanitation Association (SSA), directed by the Residency-General, imposed a fee for excrement collection on the city’s Korean population when Korean fertiliser merchants were completing their task more effectively and free of charge.12 Resultantly, newspaper interviews reflect that waste was collected much less frequently, exacerbating hygiene issues whilst rural farmers suffered a resource deficit in manure.13 The SSA enforced using a top-down approach to managing sanitation which ignored the knowledge of seasoned local professionals and citizens, resultantly, many Koreans failed to pay their share due to poverty in the region and fears it was a financial fraud due to this service already being provided by local fertiliser collectors. Henry highlights that either a heavy fine or labour instead of a wage would be requested if the two sen fee was not paid.14 These policy’s did not focus on the integration of Koreans through education suited to their understandings of sanitation or the use of methods which respected the privacy of Korean people, instead, these policies ritualised cleaning and fee paying which the government felt would help to curb the infection rate of the expatriate population. Although sanitisation cooperatives and talks surrounding education on sanitation were set up partly to educate the population, their association with police enforcement significantly impacted engagement with these groups and ultimately decreased the effectiveness of lectures and other communication techniques imposed on the Korean population.

In conclusion, Henry argues that the evident subordination of Seoul’s Korean population during Japanese colonial governance is illustrative of the continual privileging of the Japanese settlers and the hegemony of the pervasion of the euro-asian power-knowledge concept into their style of colonial policy.15 Despite the Governor-Generals insistence that the aim was to assimilate the Korean peninsula into Japanese society, medical reports and municipal government data highlight that the production of knowledge regarding the causal relationship between the city’s sanitation infrastructure and the knowledge Seoul’s colonised residents had regarding sanitation was constructed to present the Japanese as superior in their understanding of health.16 Using partial knowledge of pre-established sanitation efforts used by Korean’s to ‘solve’ the city’s sanitation issues, the colonial government diagnosed the so-called “diseased city” of Keijō with issues that were only exacerbated by their presence.

  1. Todd A. Henry, Assimilating Seoul: Japanese Rule and the Politics of Public Space in Colonial Korea, (Berkley, 1972), p.137. []
  2. Governor-General of Chosen, Annual Report on Reforms and Progress in Korea by the Government-General in 1913-14, (Seoul, 1915), pp. 123 -131, Accessed at: https://archive.org/details/annualreportonreformsandprogressinchosenkorea191314/page/n171/mode/2up (Accessed on: 6/11/2023). []
  3. Henry, Assimilating Seoul, p.136. []
  4. Ibid, p.139. []
  5. Ibid.  []
  6. Ibid, p.155 []
  7. “Report on Reforms and Progress in Korea 1913-14”, Accessed at: https://archive.org/details/annualreportonreformsandprogressinchosenkorea191314/page/n171/mode/2up, (Accessed 6/10/2023), pp.125 []
  8. Henry, Assimilating Seoul, p.131. []
  9. Annual Report on Reforms and Progress in Korea 1913-14, pp.123-131. []
  10. Henry, Assimilating Seoul, p.139. []
  11. Ibid, p.142. []
  12. Ibid.p.135. []
  13. Ibid, p.136. []
  14. Ibid. p.135. []
  15. Ibid. p.139. []
  16. Ibid. []

Curating First Impressions: Exploring the Seascapes of Sadahide’s Yokohama prints and their presentation of the Early Treaty Port Era

Sadahide’s Yokohama Prints or Yokohama-e are the product of a significant shift in the spatial context within a plethora of Japanese ports during the 1850s. These artworks illustrate the spatial dynamism within the Treaty Port’s commercial and social areas. In spite of the dangers of being a foreign merchant and complex spatial barriers incurred by the legal segregation of land and access to littoral space in Yokohama, Sadahide’s exoticised portrayals of the Treaty Port reflect the process in which people’s sense of place is curated and altered. The Harris Treaty signed aboard the U.S. warship Powhatan, came into effect in 1859 and catapulted Yokohama into the international economy.1

The pressured opening of Japanese trading ports induced the restoration of the social issues of human trafficking, and the violation of Japan’s domestic security.2 Foreign traders and officials hastily constructed entertainment venues and brothels to cater to their sailors’ needs.3 They were also known to venture deeper into the inlets of Edo Bay beyond the boundaries of the Treaty Ports and these outings often ended in violence against the foreigners.4 These acts began to break down Japan’s status society and, combined with the continued commercial concessions enforced on the imperial court, sparked acts of violence by the Bakufu against foreigners.5 The realities of Treaty Port life are largely excluded from Sadahide’s exploration of Treaty Port life and focus on the economic vitality, cultural sophistication, and social cohesion of the Treaty Port.

The artwork “Pictures of Western Traders at Yokohama Transporting Merchandise”, produced in 1861, consists of five weed blocks attached that capture Sadahide’s portrayal of the age of commerce in Yokohama’s Treaty Port. This print depicts five ships, each flying a flag that distinguishes them as one of the five Western members of the Ansei Treaties. Traditional Japanese woodblock printing emerged a century prior to the signing of The Ansei Treaties in 1858, which opened access to Japan’s trading ports after two centuries of seclusion.6 The national flags on each ship in Sadahide’s print are those of the United States, Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Russia. These countries established trading rights, port access, and the application of extraterritoriality between Japan themselves.7 This arrangement was arguably forced upon Japan by the United States by intimidating the shōgunate by periodically sending warships into Edo Bay.8

Despite Japan’s coercion into the treaty, its re-introduction into the global market and the high value of imported goods transiting through the Treaty Ports is illustrated thoroughly in “Pictures of Western Traders at Yokohama Transporting Merchandise”.  A mixture of steam and sailboats are visible. Inside the port holes, small sightings of the internal luxury are discernable. Many foreign women accompanying their husbands are visible, despite their scarcity in this period.9 A diversity within the staff is also depicted, on the American boat, an Indian male, distinguished by his turban, is pulling in the rigging. Goods are overflowing on the decks of each ship and in the small rowing boats on the water. Overall, the seascape is overwhelmingly a Westernised image. Sadahide celebrates a bustling yet peaceful image devoid of the local xenophobia that was rife towards the inhabitants of the Treaty Ports.10 This image is also thought to be inspired by a print published in the Illustrated London News half a year before this print release.11 Sadahide’s potential imitation of the British artist illustrates that Sadahide is able to manipulate Western artistic fashions to appeal to foreign consumers and curate a specific and positive sense of place within the viewer. 

Figure 1: “Pictures of Western Traders at Yokohama Transporting Merchandise”,  by Sadahide (1861).

Figure 2: Harbour Scene at Naples, from Illustrated News London.

The print entitled “A Picture of Sunday in Yokohama”, released in 1860 illustrates the spatial exclusivity of the Treaty Port.12 The image depicts a procession of the foreign inhabitants of Yokohama’s Treat Port including a brass band, the wives of merchants and again the flags of the five nations involved in The Ansei treaty. In the background, the merchant ships and one of the jetties can be seen, reinforcing the semi-colonial assertion of power the five nations have enforced on Yokohama. In Neo-Confucian conceptions of moral behaviour and within Tokugawa society, the role of merchants and handling money is associated with improper ethical practice and is a lowly occupation.13 Sadahide is perhaps mocking the Western ritualised celebration of the merchant class and contesting their perceptions of how they assert power over Yokohama’s littoral space by implying they are morally unrefined. This is a significant example of how perceptions of space and who holds power in these places may be interpreted by foreigners and Japanese people may interpret Sadahide’s representations in his prints differently.

Figure 3: “A Picture of Sunday in Yokohama”, by Sadahide (1860).

To conclude, Sadahide’s artworks exude a sense of calmness and present a highly sterilized image of Yokohama to engender Japan with the prestige and financial prosperity it aimed to embody in the eyes of Western visitors.14 In contrast with the dangerous and male-dominated reality of Yokohama’s Treaty Porty at this time, Sadahide provides an enchanting, stylised depiction of semi-colonialism. During the messy, infancy of the Treaty Port system, foreign merchants began to test the pliability of the spatial boundaries that they had assigned. Resultantly, markets for prostitution, and “coolie” labour were drawn to Yokohama’s shores to facilitate the growing market.15 As tensions rose between the British and Japanese in their quests for legal hegemony over legalities that transgressed the port’s limits, Sadahide continued to print visuals that appealed to Western foreigners residing and travelling through. There is a constant exoticism and beautification of the Treaty Port, the harbour, and the merchants.

  1. John Dower, “Yokohama Boomtown: Foreigners in Treaty Port Japan (1859-1972), Available at: yb_essay04.html (Accessed: 18/09/23) []
  2. Daniel Botsman, ‘Freedom without Slavery? “Coolies,” Prostitutes, and Outcastes in Meiji Japan’s “Emancipation Moment”’, The American Historical Review 116, no. 5 (2011): 1323–47. []
  3. Marius Jansen, The Making of Modern Japan, (Harvard, 2022), p.317. []
  4. Jansen, The Making of Modern Japan, pp.317-319. []
  5. Jansen, The Making of Modern Japan, pp.314-317. []
  6. Dower, “Yokohama Boomtown”, available at: yb_essay04.html (accessed: 18/09/23) []
  7. Jeremy Taylor, “The Bund: Littoral Space of Empire in the Treaty Ports of East Asia,” Social History 27, no. 2 (2002): 125–42 []
  8. Todd Munson, “Imperialism and Indomedia in Bakumatsu Japan: The View from Treaty Port Yokohama”, PhD Thesis, (University of Indiana, 2004) pp.50-53 []
  9. Dower, “Yokohama Boomtown”, available at: yb_essay04.html (accessed: 18/09/23) []
  10. Jansen, The Making of Modern Japan, p.317 []
  11. MIT Visualising Cultures, “Boomtown”, Available at: https://visualizingcultures.mit.edu/yokohama/yb_essay04.html, (Accessed 18/09/23) []
  12. MIT Visualising Cultures, “Boomtown”, Available at: https://visualizingcultures.mit.edu/yokohama/yb_essay04.html (accessed:18/09/23) []
  13. Munson, “Imperialism and Indomedia in Bakumatsu Japan: The View from Treaty Port Yokohama”, p.156 []
  14. Munson, “Imperialism and Indomedia in Bakumatsu Japan: The View from Treaty Port Yokohama”, p.147. []
  15.  Botsman, ‘Freedom without Slavery?”: 1323–47. []

Towards hyperreality, a tendency to conceptualize: the development of department stores in Japan from pre-war to post-war period

The original purpose of starting a department store was to enable consumers to purchase their demanded goods in one place.1 Then the appearance of department stores made consumption and purchase more convenient for the more and more condensed and urbanized society. During the process when the department store was adapting to Japanese society, the function of department stores exceeded the original one. Rather than solely advertising and selling consumer goods, they also sell lifestyle, culture and a sense of belonging to certain classes and groups. Therefore, Japanese departments are very keen on creating their own brand culture for their consumers. To sum up, Japanese department stores sell certain concepts to their customers. Through investigating the media of advertisements used by different department stores, a tendency of supplying and consuming concepts and cultures of the department stores could be observed. Moreover, it is not just a postwar phenomenon in Japan, but also significant in the prewar period. Starting in the prewar period, it reaches a peak in the 1970s and 1980s. Exceeding the sale of material goods, department stores gradually are made into hyper-real space.

In Ueno’s case study of the Seibu department store, she offers three advertising posters designed by the Seibu department store. Neither of them displays specific goods or brands. They are composed of photographic portraits of people and a short slogan. The explanation for this kind of design is that these poster does not serve the purpose of selling specific goods, but rather aim to sell a concept to customers. Themes used by Seibu included ‘research for one’s self’, ‘women staging themselves’ and ‘My Own Expression’. When people buy certain customer goods from Seibu, they are not just buying the good, but also consuming one of the concepts and lifestyle printed in these posters. In order to better help their customer to construct a lifestyle of their own Seibu’s business plan of constructing specialized merchandise includes all kinds of goods, such as sports goods, interior furnishing and so on.2 They almost covered all aspects of one’s daily life. Therefore, Seibu department stores had a mature system of advertising and selling. In this system, the customers consume more than just material goods, they could also enjoy a sense of satisfaction and superiority when they feel that they have demonstrated and affirmed their personality or certain social identity while purchasing. Moreover, not only the action of purchasing could affirm make conspicuous of one’s identity and self-awareness, but which department store one chooses to go shopping in is also a way to show one’s choice of lifestyle.

Then the department store became a hyperreal space. According to Jean Baudrillard, a hyperreal is generated by models of a real without origin or reality. In contemporary society, the signs of the real substitute the real.3 Based on this theory, Osawa Masachi argues that the urban heart of Tokyo, places such as Shibuya and Ginza could be seen as hyperreal space created by the investment of capitalist groups. In these spaces, people define their personal interest and taste through the consumption of the fruits of hyperreality, which helped them to be recognized or develop a sense of belonging to an ideology or certain group. Osawa defines this generation of people as ‘shinjinrui’ or new people.4  Referring to the case study of Seibu, the culture and themes created by Seibu had these effects. For example, the theme ‘My Own Expression’ would help customers to recognize themselves as someone who seek their true self and active expression of the true self, which is a different ideology and concept of life from the interwar period when people chose to identify themselves as a member of a mass or collective.

((‘Mitsukoshi Opening Up’, https://bodiesandstructures.org/bodies-and-structures-2/mitsukoshi-opening-up?path=in-the-pages-of-mitsukoshi [accessed 12.2.2023].))

The precedent of this phenomenon could be traced back to the prewar Mitsukoshi department store. Similar to Seibu, Mitsukoshi also published its own magazines as a means to advertise its brand and goods. Compared to the posters of Seibu, the magazines edited by Mitsukoshi contained more specific information and display of material goods. However, there were still some sections in the magazine which were not directly related to the marketing of goods. The first example is a traditional section of the journal: the special feature of spotlighting daughters (reijo) of the local elite.5  These featured articles offer detailed descriptions of the honoured daughter’s lifestyle, personal interests and tastes and used them as a way to sell a type of lifestyle to the prospective customers of the department store. Their elite background and traditionally admired hobbies would attract other people to imitate the lifestyles of reijos. The second example is the spatial arrangement of the department and its decoration, especially the Mitsukoshi department store. It has an intentional imitation of western-style department stores.  The traditional Japanese stores do not involve the movement of customers. There would be only one counter, and the customer speaks to the salesperson who would find the item for the customer and show it to him or her behind the counter. Then the customer only needs to wait. Mitsukoshi adopted a spatial arrangement of western department stores which allows customers to move around the stores and its architectural and decoration styles was also westernized. These traces of imitation of the West targeted upper-middle-class customers. This intentionally made the western environment serve the upper-middle-class people’s mental need to experience the modernity imported from the West. Additionally, the discipline in the department store shows its exclusivity to other groups of people. Therefore, the spatial arrangement, decorations and atmosphere created in the Mitsukoshi department store created a space where people from certain classes can affirm their identity and have a taste of western modernity.

Moreover, the creation of hyperreal space and selling concepts does not only have an influence on customers. They attracted prospective female workers to the department store as well. The typical case is the elevator girls. Laura Miller, the author of “Elevator Girls Moving in and Out of the Box”, argues that the uniform, training accepted by the employees and script used by the elevator girls gave these female workers chance to participate in the middle-class imagination.6

In the future, this tendency of conceptualization of goods may even continue and accelerate, as now Mitsukoshi’s app could even provide people with a virtual shopping experience online. Without actually being present in the department store, customers could use their avatars to shop in the 3D setting of the stores. Beyond material goods, there is an inevitable tendency of consuming and selling signs and concepts to fulfil the demand of consumers in Japan.

  1. Ueno Chizuko, “Seibu Department Store and Image Marketing – Japanese Consumerism in the Postwar Period” in Kerrie L. MacPherson ed. Asian Department Stores, p.342. []
  2. Ibid, p. 326. []
  3. Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. Sheila Faria Glaser, p. 1-2. []
  4. Osawa Masachi, Kyokou No Jidai No Hate, p. 47-48. []
  5. ‘Locating Reijo’, https://bodiesandstructures.org/bodies-and-structures-2/locating-reijo?path=peopling-the-place-of-mitsukoshi [accessed 12.2.2023]. []
  6. Laura Miller, ‘Elevator Girls Moving In and Out of the Box’ in ed. Freedman, Modern Girls on the Go: Gender, Mobility, and Labor in Japan, p.65. []

Thoughts on the Letters of Donald Keene


The letters of Donald Keene to Theodore (Ted) du Bary and Otis Cary stand out as a stark picture of life during the Asia-Pacific war. As an American, Keene’s reflections on his experiences and observations show the reality of life on the ground as he was sent from post to post. In a time when propaganda on both sides showed the glory of war and pushed the message of righteousness of their cause, Keene offers a very different viewpoint. His letters are in places difficult to stomach for a modern reader, as he describes the atrocities that both American and Japanese soldiers committed against each other, especially in the treatment of prisoners and their corpses1

What really stands out in Keene’s letters is his views on war and his hope for the future. In the same letter as he describes the mutilation of corpses, he ends by saying that

If it were possible, I think the best solution would be to forget the past and to attempt a real reconversion of the Japanese nation. I think that we have a good chance of arousing the interest and active cooperation of many young Japanese. Intelligence on our part can really win the war. I wonder if Americans won’t find the Japanese the most agreeable people in Asia from almost every standpoint. The Japanese will certainly admire the Americans. With this initial advantage we can create a powerful and meaningful friendship.2

Keene’s view was, by his own admission, not widely shared. He recounts that he often found himself on the ‘wrong’ side of arguments by attempting to show his peers a different viewpoint on war and their opinion of the Japanese people. To attempt to change the mindset of an entire nation would be beyond the ability of any single person, but Keene did not let this deter him. He went on to become a highly respected scholar in Japan, even going as far as to renounce his American citizenship in favour of Japanese and adopting the phonetic rendering of his name in Japanese. He remained highly respected in Japan until his death in 2019.


  1. Donald Keene to Ted du Bary, September 23rd 1945, pp. 127-28. []
  2. ibid, pg. 130 []

The Paradox of exhibiting indigenous culture: Ainu people in the 1910 Japan-British Exhibition

“The exhibition persuades people that the world is divided into two fundamental realms – the representation and the origin, the exhibit and the external reality, the text and the world.”1

—- Timothy Mitchell

According to Timothy Mitchell’s “The World as Exhibition”, the world in the exhibition is a distinct realm from reality. This phenomenon does not only exist in a metaphorical sense but also occurs literally in real life. In the 1910 Japan-British Exhibition, in order to recreate a vivid and realistic experience for the visitors, many minorities from native Japan and from Japanese colonies were asked to participate in this joint exhibition. They were Formosans, Sumo wrestlers and Ainus.2 Among them, Ainus had a distinct situation from the other two. Compared to Sumo wrestlers, the Ainu people were more distant from the mainstream Japanese culture, led by Yamato Japanese people. Compared to Formosans, Ainus are not from the colonies of Japan, they are also native Japanese people. The territory of Ainu had been under the control of Yamato Japanese for a very long time since the Tokugawa period.

As David Howell states that the traditional way of living of Ainus was inevitably disrupted by the intrusion of the modern lifestyle promoted and popularised in the Meiji period. For example, In the mid-1880s, officials in Sapporo and Nemuro prefectures attempted to turn Ainu into farmers and then integrated them into the general Japanese population.3 Homogenization of the Ainu people was a part of constructing Japan as a modern state. Hence, until 1910, Ainus had been going through this process of assimilation for about thirty years. In contrast to what happened in the homeland, the indigenous people in oversea exhibitions always appeared with strong indigenous characteristics. There was a paradox that existed between the foreign diplomatic and the domestic policy, which targeted the indigenous people. The presence of Ainus in the Japan-British exhibition was a typical case and example of this paradox. In the case of the Ainu people in the foreign exhibition, this paradox created by the contradiction between the foreign and domestic policy of Japan reveals the ambition of Japan to claim its new status as a rising imperial power which had the potential to rival western countries in the international arena and its eagerness and rashness to do so in the early twentieth century. 

Figure 1: Postcard of Japan-British Exhibition

Ainu people are the indigenous people of Hokkaido, southern Sakhalin, and Kuril Island. They had a very intimate relationship with the general Japanese population but were also able to maintain their own uniqueness. Figure one is the postcard printed for the Japan-British Exhibition. In this postcard, there was a group of Ainus sitting in front of a traditional Ainu house. All of them wore traditional costumes, including robes and headbands. It was not the first time that Ainus were sent to participate in an exhibition. They also participated in the St Louis exhibition in 1904.4 According to the photo on the postcard, it could be observed that Ainu’s cultural and daily life characteristics were magnified and condensed in this scene. The construction of the hut and the dress of the Ainus people were all representative symbols of Ainu. According to the word of John Batchelor’s words quoted by Hotta-Lister, an Ainu man in the exhibition warmly introduced visitors to their customs and traditions.5 However, it was only under the condition that John Batchelor was able to translate Japanese for the other visitors, thus the main purpose of having native people was to create a visual effect for the audience, rather than hiring them as guides. The point was that the visitors could actually see and observe them with their own eyes, to educate themselves about Ainu customs and traditions. It is very similar to what Timothy Mitchel has found in the writings of Arabic writers in Paris. The enhancement of Ainu elements in the exhibition seems to contradict the domestic policy of Japan towards Ainus which aimed to integrate them into the general Japanese population.

The paradox caused a debate on the exhibition of the Ainu people in foreign countries. Hotta-Lister mentioned that this 1910 exhibition aimed to show Britain that Japan is a powerful nation which is worthy of making allies with and to clear the misunderstanding the public had on Japan.6 The exhibition of Ainu should be used as evidence of Japan’s backwardness so that visitors could have an object of reference to the new modern and advanced Japan.7  The magnified traditional Ainu elements in the exhibition could prove this point. However, the domestic reaction to this joint exhibition criticized that the presence of these backward races did not send a positive message about the Japanese empire to the general visitors. One word used by Hotta-Lister to describe the feeling experienced by the other Japanese is “embarrassment”.8 The reaction of the British was also not positive. The exhibition of indigenous people brings out the question of human rights and the debate on racism.9 Then the exhibition of native and indigenous culture became an awkward existence at these fairs. On the one hand, they could not represent the ‘authentic’ appearance of Japan; and on the other hand, its existence does not work in the way which people thought it would. In Mutsu Hirokichi’s article written to introduce the exhibition, the exhibition of Ainu was not even mentioned once.

Following the theory of Mitchell, the paradox that existed in the exhibition of the indigenous culture of the Ainu people could be explained that the world of the Ainu people in the exhibition is a different reality from that of in Japan. The paradox also exists on an abstract level that the world exhibited is contradictory to the world in the reality. As mentioned above, Ainus were going through the process of assimilation with the general Japanese population, and in the narrative of John Batchelor, the Ainu man who was explaining their tradition to them could speak Japanese fluently, thus Ainus who were part of the exhibition may not continue or follow their traditions as the exhibition shown. The life they exhibited to the general visitor was a created reality, specifically for the purpose of exhibiting.10 The exhibition also generalized the actual life of the Ainu people in Japan, ignoring the fact that there were many subdivisions of the Ainu people and each of them led different lifestyles. Both in real life and the exhibition, the customs, traditions, and everyday life of Ainu are reshaped. Ainu culture and people presented in the exhibition are intended exoticism, a world of representation, designed to justify the imperial mission of Japan and its power as a rival colonist. The domestic policy of assimilation also serves the purpose of consolidating imperial rule. These contradictions and the logic behind the exhibition of Ainu which can’t stand scrutiny reveal the eagerness of the Japanese empire to demonstrate its equal status with the other western countries.

  1. Timothy Mitchell. ‘The World as Exhibition’. Comparative Studies in Society and History 31, no. 2 (April 1989), p. 233. []
  2. Ibid, p. 229. []
  3. David L. Howell, ‘Making “Useful Citizens” of Ainu Subjects in Early Twentieth-Century Japan’, The Journal of Asian Studies, 63.1 (2004), pp. 6-7 []
  4. Hotta-Lister, A. The Japan-British Exhibition of 1910: Gateway to the Island Empire of the East. 1 edition. Richmond: Routledge, 1999, p.117. []
  5. Ibid, p.144. []
  6. Ibid, pp. 110-111. []
  7. Ibid, p. 142. []
  8. Ibid, p. 143. []
  9. Ibid, p. 133. []
  10. Ibid, p. 144. []

Forging Soft Power? The Japan-British Exhibition of 1910 and its Consequences for Japan’s Global Status

An unwitting visitor to White City, London in 1910 might have received a shock as they turned the corner of Commonwealth Avenue to find themselves faced by flowering rows of cherry blossoms, glistening water fountains, Japanese shrines and half-naked sumo wrestlers approaching their personal space at disturbingly breakneck speed. However, providing they had not been knocked over, with over eight million visitors in attendance across the summer, it should not have taken our unsuspecting guest long to realise they had stumbled across a rather significant exhibition.  That being the Japan-Britain Exhibition of 1910 and the largest international expose of culture, technology and status the Japanese Empire had ever been involved in.


Ayako Hotta-Lister has produced a comprehensive summary of the landmark event in her ‘Gateway to the Island of the East’, however, this article is principally concerned with the exhibition’s political objectives and outcomes for the Japanese Empire. By this time, world’s fairs, expositions and exhibitions had become a familiar sight around the world. European and American cities began hosting them frequently from the middle of the 19th century. They became hubs for cultural exchange, global interaction and economic networking. Hotta-Lister has maintained that holding an exhibition ‘became one of the obligatory tasks for a country that had already achieved world power status, as well as for those aspiring to do so’.2 In light of this, and indeed the Anglo-Japanese Alliance signed in 1902, there was seemingly much to be gained and little to be lost by a Japanese Exhibition in London.

Hotta-Lister’s article is a valuable source in understanding the reasoning behind Japan’s desire for an exhibition in 1910. Its objectives, largely instigated by Foreign Minister Komura Jutarō and Katsura Tarō, were ‘principally commercial’.3 Primarily, the two men felt compelled to strengthen trade links, specifically increasing the number of Japanese exports which reached the British Isles.4 Such an exhibition would act as a ‘shop-window’ for Japanese goods. Furthermore, another key objective was to obtain loans from London’s big financiers. At a basic monetary level, the exhibition provided a platform to prove Japan’s transition to modernity and convince creditors that Japan was a ‘good bet’. The opportunity to reinforce the newly formed alliance was also low hanging fruit which the organisers could also not refuse. It is interesting to note that the very name of the exhibition places ‘Japan’ before ‘Britain’, uncommon for this era of British pre-eminence, underlining that the event would take place with the two nations on equal footing.

Ultimately, how successful were the Japanese authorities in fulfilling their objectives in 1910? Firstly, from the point of view of the British, the event was far more popular with visitors than was expected. The attendance was ‘far exceeding the attendance at the Franco-British Exhibition of 1908… one of London’s most successful and popular exhibitions of the decade.’5 Despite this, however, Hotta-Lister’s article reveals that in relation to the Brussels International Exhibition, happening concurrently, the British attitude to the Japan-British event was somewhat ‘lukewarm’.6 Moreover, there was a school of thought amongst the British in certain circles that the event and its exhibits were to an extent uncivilised and unsightly. However, the consensus appears to be that the ‘indifference’ or lack of interest in the exhibition was not widespread amongst the British public and indeed the spectacle was generally enjoyed.

From a Japanese perspective, however, the reactions to the exhibition’s success appear to be more mixed. Whilst Japanese authorities felt it was a top priority to portray an affluent, modern and prosperous image to their British allies, there were many that felt this had not been captured in the exhibits. One such case was the feeling that the village-space that had been constructed was more akin to a poor, rural community than the urban centres which were becoming the centre for modernisation and transformation. The postcard below captures not only the architecture that reveals this, but also the attire and practices of the Japanese participants themselves. This is especially problematic when one considers Timothy Mitchell’s argument that visitors were ‘participant observers’ and active in the scene themselves.7 As such, they would have felt they were ‘there’ in Japan, however the Japan that was depicted was not the modern one they intended to portray.


In collaboration with the sense the ‘wrong’ Japan was represented, there also seems to have been a sense in the Japanese newspapers of the time that ‘exoticism’ and ‘orientalist’ imagery had been played up to. Whilst a fundamental aim of the exhibition was to correct misconceptions of Japanese culture and traditions, entertainments such as the Sumo wrestlers, in ‘authentic near-naked splendour’, were seen by many as ‘novelty’ and certain visitors found it offensive and as further evidence of Japan’s ‘backwardness’.9 Japanese commentators found this aspect of the exhibition self-demeaning, rather than image-enhancing.

In conclusion, exhibitions such as the Japan-British of 1910 are clear platforms for the demonstrating of success, modernising and cultural affluence. Whilst the exhibition was widely attended, generated attention and stimulated economic collaboration between the two nations, the general feeling among Japanese stakeholders was that it fell short in creating ‘soft power’ and promoting Japan’s image. It was successful in being educational about Japan’s culture, norms and practices, but appears to have lacked clarity when expressing Japan’s transformation into a world-leading political entity. A missed opportunity? Perhaps. One only has to compare such an exhibition to an extravagant event like Dubai’s Expo 2020 to realise that Japan could perhaps have done more to concentrate its efforts on displaying its status as a big player on the geopolitical stage.

  1. https://i.pinimg.com/originals/ea/dd/3f/eadd3f07ff5f797222f66528adb1527f.jpg []
  2. Ayako Hotta-Lister, The Japan-British Exhibition of 1910: Gateway to the Island Empire of the East, p. 4 (London, 2000) []
  3. Hotta-Lister, The Japan-British Exhibition of 1910, p. 74 []
  4. Ibid []
  5. Ibid, p. 111 []
  6. Ibid, p. 110 []
  7. Timothy Mitchell, ‘The World as Exhibition’ in Comparative Studies in Society and History, 31(2), (1989) p. 231 []
  8. 1910 Japan-British Exhibition – Human Zoos []
  9. Hotta-Lister, The Japan-British Exhibition of 1910, p. 118 []