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:, (Accessed 18/09/23) []
  12. MIT Visualising Cultures, “Boomtown”, Available at: (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’, [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’, [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. []
  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 []

Educating Japan: How the Public Health Train was able to Meet the Demands of a Time Conscious Population.

Trains within Japan are an important factor in life because they meet cultural standards which ensure efficient time and promote a work lifestyle. However, due to how integrated trains have become in the everyday life of Japan, they have become spaces which people use for socializing and practicing social etiquette. Trains are also a vital source of advertising and educating, therefore, therefore, allowing the idea of the ‘Public Health Train’ to be established. In 1947, the public health train was used as an exhibit to educate people on issues such as nutrition, dental hygiene, and how diseases can spread. What this train also provided were details of employment within the medical field.1 This train would tour Japan, which allowed an estimated number of 900,000 people to view the exhibit and be granted a better understanding of their own health. Although this train only toured Japan for two years, it changed how space within trains can be used, not only for transportation, but as a source of vital information.

Not only was the space within the train used for education, but by placing this type of exhibit within Japanese train stations, it ensured that it was within the route of workers and students who would have perhaps missed the opportunity to view the exhibit if the exhibit had been placed elsewhere. Therefore, what can be argued is that the public health train was only successful because it met the cultural demands of Japan. By placing the exhibit within a train station, it became accessible to busy workers and students who were expected to comply with strict time schedules.

‘An impressive and colourful ceremony was held November 1 at Harajuku Station, Tokyo, Japan, in commemoration of the opening of the Public Health Train exhibits. The train then moved out to its first three-day stand at Tokyo Central Station and was host to more than 15,000 persons during this period.’2

Alisa Freedman’s Tokyo in Transit: Japanese Culture on the Rails and Road highlights what could be referred to as the waiting culture within Japanese train stations because of how accustomed people had become to using train stations as meeting points and primary methods to get to work or school.3 Therefore, what can be noted is why features such as shops, restaurants, and exhibits were normalized within this space. The notion of waiting allowed this space to be used in a way that would occupy people who were waiting.

Train stations within Japan were and still are a space that occupies perhaps the largest amount of people waiting and this is perhaps why using an exhibit within the form of a train seemed most appealing to its audience. This type of exhibit might have worked within America’s subways or Paris’s metro stations, but not as successfully as in Japan and this is because spatial factors have ensured that cities have room to accommodate the popularity of cars as a means of transport, therefore creating a decline within the usage of trains. Whereas Japan’s narrow streets disenable the prospect of cars becoming high in demand. Therefore, allowing trains, buses, and bicycles to remain the main mode of transport.

  1. Public health and welfare in Japan (1939-1949) p.77. []
  2. Weekly bulletin, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. Public Health and Welfare Section (1947) p.7. []
  3. Alisa Freedman, Tokyo in Transit: Japanese Culture on the Rails and Road (Stanford University Press, 2011) p.11. []

The extended domestic space: the construction of nursing homes in pre-war Japanese society

Foucault’s The Birth of Clinic and Discipline and Punish triggered criticism and reflection on the institutions such as hospitals and mental asylum. The architectural design and administrative formats in these places were criticized for restricting and stripping the basic dignity of human beings. It is a similar case for nursing homes.

The history of the nursing home can be traced to the construction of poorhouses in England in the seventeenth century. It was specifically designed to contain and care for the marginal social collectives since, at that time, hospitals started to exclude the obstetrical, indigent, and insane patient, as well as lepers and children.1 Nursing homes originated from hospitals, which explains why their later construction and design adopted the structure of hospitals. The position of nursing homes in society is similar to hospitals as well. According to Roger Luckhurst’s chapter on prison, asylum and hospital in his work on Corridors, these places possess the characteristic of alienation, isolating from the social and familial environment.2 However, nursing homes in Japan in the pre-war time showed opposite attributes. They tended to recreate the domestic space for the aged through architectural construction and the arrangement of daily activities. In my long essay, I plan to focus on this unique characteristic of the nursing home in Japan.

The motivation for developing social institutions in Japan was similar to that of other Western countries (which is to take care of the life of the elderly), but the existence of nursing homes could be viewed as an exceptionally unusual case in East Asian countries which respected Confucianism as the dominant guideline for social behaviour and hierarchy. Taking care of the elders and seniors is the responsibility of the younger generations in a family. In Mika Toba’s report on the biographies of residents in a nursing home in pre-war Japan, we could know that most of them were people who either did not have a child or lost their child before coming to old age.  This sometimes even became a condition for the people who wanted to apply for residence in a nursing home. The Tokyo nursing home, which I mainly focused on, had a hut called “Family hut” (家庭寮). It was explicitly built for elderly people who still had family members of the same generation to live together. The set-up of the rooms in the family hut was intentionally designed in the same way as typical Japanese houses, “the structure of the hut only changes a little compared to a normal house. At the middle of the tatami room, there is a hibachi”.3 Not only was the physical construction made to be more similar to a traditional Japanese house, but the timetable arrangement also contained the intention to recreate everyday life regardless of following the concept of ‘nursing home’. Most of the hours in a day were designated to devote to housework. The timetable of the nursing home also aimed to give the aged as much freedom as possible. As long as the residents do not have a serious health issue, they have the freedom to go out.

Figure 1: the residents in the Tokyo nursing home receiving gifts from female students (caption on the left side: the visit of the female students delights elderly people)

Unlike the alienating nature of the hospital and mental asylum, the nursing home in Japan was closely connected with society. The Tokyo nursing home held regular visiting activities. In its anniversary book, there is a picture (figure 1) showing young students sending elderly people gifts. The arrangement of student visiting could be seen as compensation for the childless life of those elderly people. Since a Confucianist society operates on family units, these childless old people were seen as the social marginals included in the relief law enacted in 1932. The Japanese welfare system was established based on a family-like society. Nursing homes did not merely operate as shelters or medical supporting institutions for the elderly people in need, but instead as substitutions of a family for them.

Examining the domesticity in nursing homes on a broader scale, the development of the nursing home in Japan also marked the attempt of contemporary Japanese to explore an alternative way of Asian modernization instead of following the trajectory of the West. The first nursing home established in Japan was called St. Hilda nursing home and was operated by a Christian group in Japan. After the promotion of the Meiji emperor to support the people who needed social welfare in 1868, the number of nursing homes increased, and many of them were run by local religious groups, especially Pure Land Buddhism. The process of making the nursing home more like a domestic space reflects the attempt to seek an alternative path for the modernization of Japan on a social and domestic level. There is a relationship between the construction of the nursing home and the building of a modern Asian society based on the tenet of benevolence and Confucianism. Just like Jordan Sand argues that there was the dissolution of tradition and emphasis on domestic life, and the occurrence of this turn of dwelling and domestic spaces in the late Meiji and early Taisho period when Japan fully participated in global imperial competition was not just a coincidence.4

  1. Renée Rose Shield, Uneasy Endings: Daily Life in an American Nursing Home, Uneasy Endings (Cornell University Press, 2018), p.30-31. []
  2. Roger Luckhurst, Corridors: Passages of Modernity (London: Reaktion Books, 2019), p.190. []
  3. 東京養老院, ‘養老 : 東京養老院概要’ (東京養老院, 1938), p.76-77. []
  4. Jordan Sand, House and Home in Modern Japan: Reforming Everyday Life 1880-1930 (Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press, 2005), p. 4-5. []

Prisons as Internal and External Space: The cases of Lushun and Seodaemun


The study of prisons from a spatial aspect is an interesting one. There are the architectural studies, which analyse the shape of a building and never begin without first referring to the famous Bentham Panopticon, then there are the multitude of ethical and moral studies, as well as philosophical, historical, legal, the list goes on.

For my essay I am focussing specifically on two prisons under Japanese rule, Seodaemun in Korea and Lushun in Dalian (Manchuria, formerly Port Arthur). Both are brilliantly covered in Shu-Mei Huang and Hyun Kyung Lee’s work Heritage, Memory and Punishment: Remembering Colonial Prisons in East Asia. Their work covers all aspects of prisons, showing how prison architecture in east Asia developed through Western influences. Crucially, they show how this evolved not just in an architectural sense, but also in line with legal, judicial and penal reform itself.

What I am most interested in is the difference in prisoner treatment between Seodaemun and Lushun. As Huang and Lee state, Lushun was not originally built as a Japanese prison, but taken over after the defeat to Russia in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. The plans for the prison had originally been drawn up by the head of the Russian Pacific Fleet, and so there is a clear visual demarcation in the architecture denoting the extent of the original Russian construction and the later Japanese additions.1 This is important to keep in mind, as Lushun was used to hold the captured Russian prisoners of war after 1905. Perhaps this was an attempt at keeping the prisoners aware of their defeat, but the accounts of those held there show that they were treated remarkably well. I argue that the location of Lushun in Manchuria is central to this, as it was seen as an already contested space- having gone variously through Russian, Chinese and Japanese control. Furthermore, the Russo-Japanese War was Japan’s first global conflict, and so Lushun represented Japan’s willingness to abide by the relatively new European treaties of human rights. I therefore argue that the treatment of prisoners in Lushun was not a case of Japan’s magnanimity to their fallen enemies, but a deliberate ploy to be viewed as civilised and modern by the rest of Europe, in order to prove their ‘enlightenment’ and modernisation.

The proof is clear when contrasted against the conditions and treatment of prisoners in Seodaemun prison. Unlike Lushun, Seodaemun was constructed by the Japanese imperial government after the signing of the Japan-Korea Protectorate Policy in 1905, which formally brought Korea under Japanese control2. It was therefore a clear symbol of Japanese Imperialism and their view of Japanese superiority. Huang and Lee argue that it was designed specifically to hold ‘“dangerous figures” such as political offenders’, with the ‘”objective” [own emphasis] of separating them from society’3. I argue that it was this viewpoint of the Japanese as superior to the Koreans that explains the mistreatment of those held in Seodaemun prison. Taking the spatial angle, it is clear that Seodaemun, being located in Korea and fully under Japanese control, was thus perceived as an ‘internal’ space compared to Lushun’s ‘external’ space.

  1. Shu-Mei Huang and Hyun Kyung Lee, Heritage, Memory and Punishment: Remembering Colonial Prisons in East Asia, Oxon, 2020, p. 57 []
  2. Ibid, pg. 76 []
  3. Ibid, pg. 77 []

Forward planning: A comparison of population control in Manchuko and the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom

A common thread with ideas of Utopian cities is the importance of planning, especially town planning. In the context of Manchuko, these Utopian ideals were made possible through its conception as an entirely new city, a literal blank slate from which to build a perfect regime. However, as with all concepts of Utopia dreamt up so far, what seems perfect on paper is always difficult if not impossible to make reality.

Take two examples of a Utopian ideal: Manchuko, an area of China under Japanese control, and the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Korea. Both are examples of a Utopian ideal that aimed to create a perfect world order according to the leader’s ideas. Both enjoyed a large degree of success in their formative years, and yet both ended up struggling to maintain that order as the cities grew.

The greatest similarity I found between these two examples is that of housing and the settlement structure. Both were designed around a rigid system of strictly controlled numbers for houses, whereby the entire population was compartmentalised into numerical blocks of houses, streets, villages, and districts. The aim in both was to instil a sense of duty and order in the inhabitants as well as create stronger bonds. I argue that while this may have been the case for some, this tightly controlled system of planning set itself up for failure from the beginning as both cases failed to take proper account of population demographics and long-term planning.

Let’s compare the statistics. David Tucker sets out the numbers for Manchuko in his chapter City Planning Without Cities: Order and Chaos in Utopian Manchuko. Accompanied at every stage with clearly labelled diagrams, he shows the proposed outline of Manchuko. It was ordered into a system of hamlets, with each one surrounded by fields and woodland and bordered by a gated wall and moat1. Each hamlet consists of a community building with a central plaza, and rows of houses arranged around it. Each one would have 150 houses, with each household comprising 5 people and allotted 15 acres of fields. The scale then ascended with 3 hamlets forming a village of 450 households of 2250 people2.

Tucker states that these numbers were very carefully chosen as it was based on an assumption that 150 households of 5 people each would mean an average of about 200 working-age men to provide labour, who would be equally split between guarding and agricultural duties. The designation of 3 hamlets into a village would be enough to provide “a sufficient economic base for shared educational, cultural and administrative facilities”3

These numbers were roughly the same in the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. Instead of villages, families were grouped together into 25 households, although the size of each household was not regimented4. What sets it apart from Manchuko is the religious aspect. As the name suggests, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom was a religious organisation, and so the fundamental doctrine is very different from the economic foundation of Manchuko. Perhaps the most striking difference is Taiping’s absolute segregation of the sexes and total prohibition on sex even between married couples, punishable by death5. This appears to have been far more of a religious order than any attempt at population control, and in any case was dropped after the inevitable loss of morale.

What does need to be considered is the sheer scale of population that both Manchuko and Taiping had to plan for. At it’s height, Manchuko had a population of 300,0006. A sizeable number, but comparatively easier to plan for. Taiping, on the other hand, had at its greatest height up to 2 million people7. This is of course impossible to verify and includes people on the periphery who may have proclaimed themselves a follower but not actually lived in a Taiping-controlled city. Nevertheless, the numbers speak for themselves.

In both cases, then, it was not so much a case of a lack of planning, but of fundamental population oversights. Both Manchuko and Taiping were founded on a basis of control of growth; economic for Manchuko and religious for Taiping. For Manchuko, the tightly regimented, perfect-on-paper outline could never have worked in reality as it failed to account for pretty much all aspects of population demographics. Such strictly controlled numbers of households and villages may have seemed like it could have been added to as required, but it takes an all-or-nothing approach and so does not account for the ‘in-between’ stages. Especially for a campaign that aimed to entice Japanese citizens to move in huge numbers, it would have required huge levels of pre-emptive statistics to be able to successfully house the numbers they required and neatly sort people into such a system.

Taiping, in the same vein, placed huge importance on proselytising and enticing new converts. In this sense, it is a contrast to Manchuko as there was far more planning for the governmental and political control than on a daily level, with far vaguer outlines for the distribution of land and labour. The emphasis was on communal life, but without the same kind of structural, regimented divisions seen in Manchuko.


Both Manchuko and Taiping are therefore brilliant case studies of the difficulty an urban planner faces in trying to marry a Utopian ideal with the lived reality of the human population. Manchuko arguably enjoyed a greater degree of success due to the smaller population overall, while Taiping could not cope with the sheer overwhelming scale of its devotees. It would thus be interesting to take this discussion further, perhaps in a longer essay than the scope of a blog post allows.

  1. Tucker, David “City Planning Without Cities: Order and Chaos in Utopian Manchukuo” in Mariko Asano Tamanoi (ed)., Crossed Histories: Manchuria in the Age of Empire, p. 60 []
  2. Ibid, p. 61 []
  3. Ibid []
  4. Wm. Theodore de Bary (ed), Sources of Chinese Tradition, pg. 225 []
  5. Reilly, Thomas H. The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom: Rebellion and the Blasphemy of Empire, University of Washington Press, 2011, p. 142 []
  6. Tucker, pg. 53 []
  7. Philip A. Kuhn. “The Taiping Rebellion” in Cambridge History of China, p. 275 []

Confucianism and urban planning in Changchun as the capital city of Manchukuo 1932-1937

When Zeng Guofan, the famous scholar and leader of the Hunan Army in the late Qing period, successfully took back Nanjing from the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, one of the most prioritised tasks in his reconstruction plan was to build Confucian temples.1 Interestingly, Japanese colonialists’ naming of the newly constructed areas and its promotion of Confucian shrines and rituals of worshipping Confucius happened about sixty years later in Changchun coincidentally echoes with Zeng’s plan in Nanjing. In this blog, I will argue that Confucianism profoundly integrates with urban construction in Changchun, the capital city of Manchukuo, due to the reason that Confucianism is important to prove one’s legitimacy of ruling in China. It could consolidate the rule and is an essential alternative for the Japanese to construct a utopia in the urban spaces in Asia. Also, I want to address an exceptional characteristic possessed by Confucian temples, a form of unity in Lefebvre’s space of triad theory. The perceived, conceived space, perceived space and the space practised in a Confucian shrine reach a harmonious unification. This is one of the reasons why Confucian temples were preferred by a regime to build to consolidate its rule.

In order to find the trace of Confucianism in Changchun, I found a map with a detailed construction plan of Changchun. It was published in 1936 in Xinjing, another name for Changchun. As shown in the map, the names of the locations in the city centre were excerpted from Confucian classics. For example, Anmin street got its name from “Shuntian anmin” which means following the will of Heaven and bringing peace to the people.2

Since Confucianism was the most fundamental ideology for the rulers of China, it forms the most fundamental part of China’s social and administrative systems. In pre-modern China, to enter the administrative system, one must learn the classical text of Confucianism and then takes the civil examination to become a government official. On the social aspect, Confucianism assigns everyone who lives in the society a role to fulfil, like Confucius’s famous saying, “There is government when the prince is prince, and the minister is minister; when the father is father, and the son is the son.” Confucianism is the foundation for the order of society and the nation.

In the early 1930s, establishing order and control in Changchun was one of the most critical tasks for Guandong Army and the Manchukuo government after the Manchurian incident, and therefore Confucianism came to the front stage of Changchun. By looking into the historical context, we could know that in 1932, Japan was urgent to prove its legitimacy in China. In the North China Herald, published on 7 September 1932, there was an article with the title “Expedition to Manchukuo?” that reported the claim made by the Chinese government in Nanjing to take back Manchuria and the gathering of Soviet troops near the border of Manchukuo.3

In this map, these names excerpted from Confucian classics are particularly marked out, but buildings and locations such as the Ministry of Culture and Education and State Council were left out. They were only written in the columns printed beside this map. Actually, these government institutions were either located around Datong square or along Shuntian streets. The map tended to explicitly emphasise these public facilities, which were named after Confucianist ideology. The integration of Confucianism in the urban construction of Changchun entrusted Manchukuo and the Manchukuo government’s wishes that Manchukuo could become a prosperous and harmonious modern state under the teaching of Confucianism without following the trajectory of the west. Ironically, the order in Manchukuo, specifically in Changchun, was still maintained by Guandong Army.4

The other significance of the map is that it missed marking the location of Confucian shrines in Changchun. The most prominent Confucian shrine in Changchun is located near The Entertainment Place (歡樂地) on the map. Though many landmarks were named after Confucian classics, the map still overlooked one of the most critical things in practising Confucianism. It confirms what Yishi Liu argues in his article that from 1937 Confucian worshipping gradually lost its status in Manchukuo, as the Ministry of Culture and Education, which was in charge of worshipping Confucius, was reduced to a bureau and merged into the Ministry of Civil affairs.5 The promoted ritual of worshipping became the worshipping of Amaterasu. However, back in 1932, the ritual of worshipping Confucian was advocated by the first Prime Minister of Manchukuo Zhen Xiaoxu and supported by Guangdong Army, the true authority in Manchukuo.6 There was a trend of deterioration of the popularity of Confucianism in Changchun in the late 1930s when the Japanese gradually started to gain a more stable position in Northern China.

Finally, I want to argue that Confucian shrines are a space where the perceived, the conceived, and the practices could reach harmony without creating any unpredicted situation or function. Confucian shrines are built for worshipping Confucius; besides the rituals hosted by government officials or even the emperor, sometimes normal people could also go to the shrine for the same purpose. With thousand years of teaching Confucianism, the meaning of space and its ideology behind space became monolithic. An example of the construction in Changchun which created huge differences between the practices of the space and the space conceived is the National Founding University (Kendai) in Changchun, which was built as a pan-Asianist institution to breed the leader of future generations who would lead the revival of East Asia. But this eventually resulted in disillusionment amongst the best educated and highly expected people toward the nation-founding ideals, and some even turned themselves against the Japanese.7 Many secret anti-Japan activities were active in Kendai, such as the forbidden-book reading association. Compared to Kendai, Confucian shrines were a very ‘stable’ space with less probability of cultivating dangerous thinking or activities against Japanese colonial authorities. Confucian shrines, for hundreds of years, only had one straightforward function: to worship Confucius. With their close connection with the ruling class, and under the supervision of Guangdong Army8, it could be seen as a unified space of perceived, conceived and practised as a tool for the consolidation of the regime.

  1. Wooldridge, Chuck. City of Virtues: Nanjing in an Age of Utopian Visions (2015) Ch 4 “Zeng Guofan’s Construction of a Ritual Center, 1864-72”, p. 118. []
  2. Liu, Yishi. “Competing Visions of the Modern: Urban Transformation and Social Change of Changchun, 1932-1957.” Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2011, p.103 []
  3. “Expedition to Manchukuo,” The North-China Herald, September 7, 1932. []
  4. Liu, Yishi. “Competing Visions of the Modern”, p. 62. []
  5. Ibid, p.73. []
  6. Ibid, p.69. []
  7. Liu, Yishi. “Competing Visions of the Modern”, p.24-25. []
  8. Ibid, p.69-70. []