Room 45: New look to the V&A Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art

The Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London has been newly refurbished. When it first opened in 1986, the gallery was the first major gallery of Japanese art in the United Kingdom and this year’s reorganisation reinforces its status as forging the way in the presentation of Japanese material culture. The gallery space includes around 550 exhibits: 30 are recent acquisitions and the majority of the remainder are objects that have not been on display in the Toshiba Gallery for a long time or ever before.

The gallery remains devoted to showing Japan’s remarkable craftsmanship and artistic creativity from early times. Long-time favourites such as the exquisitely decorated lacquer Mazarin Chest and netsuke and inrō are still to be found on display, as are the various examples of cloisonné enamels, ceramics, weapons and armour, textiles and prints.

The lighting, display cases and graphic design have all been updated. The flow of information in the gallery has been reconfigured to give more space to the museum’s 20th and 21st-century Japanese holdings. This includes contemporary objects from product design, studio crafts, photography, graphic design, high fashion and kawaii street style: from the first portable stereo Walkman made in 1979 by Sony and a 2014 pink Hello Kitty rice cooker to a magnificent example of pleated women’s wear from Issey Miyake and stunning Edo-period kimono.

This year has marked the 150th anniversary of the arrival in the United Kingdom of the Satsuma Students from Satsuma, present-day Kagoshima. The area became famous for its ceramic production and, in particular, gold and coloured enamel decoration. Satsuma ware became especially popular in Europe in the late 19th century at the height of the fashion for all things Japanese. In connection with this anniversary, a number of fine pieces of Satsuma ceramics are on display, two of which are from the famous Chin Jukan kiln in Kagoshima.

If you are ever in London, and find yourself in South Kensington, why not make a visit to the V&A and Room 45?

Hello Kitty rice-cooker; 2014
Sakar International, Inc.; Plastic and metal; electrical components;
Museum no. FE.19-2015 [04/11/2015]


Incense burner with a model of a deer beneath a maple tree; about 1910

Chin Jukan workshop, Naeshirogawa (Satsuma) kilns, Kagoshima Prefecture Glazed earthenware painted in overglaze enamels and gold Marked ‘Made by Jukan, Satsuma’; Dingwall Gift; Museum no. C.321-1919

Kimono for a young woman (furisode); 1800-40
The long ‘swinging sleeves’ (furisode) of this kimono indicate that it was worn by a young woman. She was probably the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Red, symbolising youth and glamour, was an expensive dye, while the tie-dyeing (shibori) technique used to create the pattern was highly labour-intensive. This would have been a very extravagant garment. [56]; Probably Kyoto; Figured satin silk with tie-dyeing (shibori); Museum no. FE.32-1982 [04/11/2015]

Six-fold screen with the Nakamura-za Kabuki theatre; 1685–90
This sumptuous folding screen shows the exterior (right) and interior (left) of a Kabuki theatre in Edo (Tokyo).
Intended to be read from right to left, the painted scenes provide a wealth of detail.
The actors on the stage dance to music performed by musicians at the back.
A feudal lord in a tall hat looks on from the right. Among the audience at the front, a mother nurses her child.

Hishikawa Moronobu (about 1618–94), or a follower; Ink, colours and gold leaf on paper; Museum no. 319-1903 [04/11/2015]