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.
Cover of Japan-British Exhibition Shepherd’s Bush London 1910, Official Guide. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
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 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.
Models of Japanese agricultural implements, repacked into acid-free tissue (EBC 37954).
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!
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, 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-
About Mark Nesbitt
Mark Nesbitt is curator of the Economic Botany Collection at Kew. After studying agricultural botany at Reading University, Mark moved onto the archaeology of plants via a doctorate at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. After 15 years of research in the Near East, he joined Kew in 1999 as a specialist in useful plants both past and present.
At the core of Mark's work is caring for the Collection: adding new specimens (about 800 a year), monitoring environmental conditions, lending to exhibitions, upgrading the Collection database and rehousing specimens. Mark hosts around 500 visitors each year, from many different disciplines, organises conservation, teaching and research projects with collaborators, and carries out research into the history of plant fibres, medicine and colonial botany. A team of 5-6 volunteers, placement students and interns play a vital role in keeping everything going.
Mark's aims are both to ensure the Collection is cared for to modern museum standards, and to help the fascinating stories told by its 85,000 artefacts reach the widest possible audience.
- around the world
- ground breaking
- the UK
- at risk
- needs help
- english heritage
- Kew overseas
- verge of extinction
- wet tropics
- gifts that help
- of use
- hot spot
- South East Asia
- english garden
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