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Reaping History

Anna Hamilton
1 August 2013
Blog team: 
As part of my internship at Kew, I have been repacking some models of farming tools from Japan. As so often in Kew's Economic Botany Collection, research on the items has revealed an interesting story, in this case of Japanese relations with Korea and Britain.

Letters I found in Kew’s archives show that the items came from the Japan-British Exhibition held in London in 1910. This was a huge event supported by the British and Japanese governments, showcasing everything from art to military arms, and from horticulture to imperial influence.

At the end of the exhibition, many of the displays came to Kew, not least the replica Chokushi-Mon (Gateway of the Imperial Messenger), still visible near the Pagoda in the gardens at Kew. The models came to Kew via Sir Thomas Henry Elliott KCB, who was involved in the organisation of the Exhibition, and knew Kew well having served as permanent under-secretary of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, Kew’s governing body from 1903.

The Japan-British Exhibition

Unlike an exhibition today, which we would expect to find in a single gallery space, this exhibition was held at the ‘Great White City,’ in Shepherd’s Bush, covering 140 acres. Attractions included the ‘Japanese Garden of Peace’, lakes, railways, fun fair rides, cafes and restaurants, and even its own stadium. The ‘exhibition’ was comparable to a theme park today in terms of scale and variety of exhibits.

Japan-British Exhibition Poster

Cover of Japan-British Exhibition Shepherd’s Bush London 1910, Official Guide. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Japan-British Exhibition Entrance
The Exhibition grounds, shown in The Official Report: Japan British Exhibition (London, 1910, page 120. Credit: Library, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew).

The exhibition took place around the time of the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance in 1905 and 1911, and was a means for Japan to showcase itself as a suitable partner in terms of cultural, military and agricultural ambition.

The models

The items themselves are small and fragile and made predominantly of wood, with metal and wicker on some of the models. Some of the more easily identifiable items, such as the rake, the basket and the plough (in the lower of the pictures below) can clearly be recognized. To the untrained eye, other models of agricultural implements are more difficult to name.

 Japanese models   Japanese models

 Models of Japanese agricultural implements, repacked into acid-free tissue (EBC 37954).

Winnowing machine

Winnowing machine, height 13 cm. It is used to remove impurities from grain, by producing a strong air current with a revolving fan. Traditionally the winnowing affect could be achieved by throwing the mixture in the air so the wind would remove the lighter impurities.


Here are some other traditional agricultural implements that have proven difficult to identify – any further insights into what these may be are very welcome!

Japanese model   Japanese model     Japanese model

The models on display

 The models of Japanese agricultural implements were likely to have been displayed in the ‘Palace of the Orient’ part of the exhibition, which showed examples of Japan’s influence in Korea and other countries and colonies. In an enlarged image of the photograph below, it is possible to distinguish a ‘Model of Korea’ sign above the central glass cabinets, where it is likely the models were displayed.

Korean Section

Korean Section, shown inThe Official Report: Japan British Exhibition, page 288. (Credit: Library, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew).

The exhibition on Korea included a display of porcelain, metalwork, armour, and bows and arrows, as well as agricultural products and implements that Japan introduced into Korea. The exhibition coincided with the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty in 1910, which confirmed Japanese rule in Korea. In a typical rationalisation of empire during that period, the official report to the Exhibition emphasised the good work Japan had done for Korea:

'She has awakened Korea out of her long sleep, and improved her country and condition of her people. She has built roads, established industries, and introduced improved agricultural methods’.

Looking at the political and cultural context of the Japan-British exhibition, it is clear that the agricultural models were intended as more than curiosities. Instead, they signified a technologically modern, expanding empire, in a way that would surely have had resonance for British visitors.

- Anna Hamilton-

Related Links

Economic Botany Collection

The Garden of Peace - a survival from the 1910 Exhibition

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