Japan in Manchester & Beyond

Yesterday I attended the Researching and Using Japanese Collections in Museums study day at the Palace Green Library, University of Durham. The Library is currently host to the V&A exhibition The Seven Treasures: Japanese Enamels from the V&A and their own in-house production Off the Wall: The Art of the Japanese Movie Poster, both well worth a visit (http://bit.ly/SKf9WH).

The day was filled with fascinating papers from both UK and Japanese colleagues that addressed the wide and varied nature of Japanese collections in the UK. Such collections which can be found in museums, galleries, libraries and stately homes are testament to the UK’s relationship with Japan politically, economically and industrially over the past several centuries. I was intrigued to hear about historic and contemporary industrial connections between England’s north-east and Japan, as presented by  Andrew MacLean, National Trust.


Battleship Yashima on the River Tyne after fit out in 1896. It was built for the Imperial Japanese Navy by Sir W G Armstrong Whitworth & Co Ltd.

Dr. Yoshi Miki, Curatorial Consultant and Visiting Professor, detailed his experience of compiling the recently published Survey and Analysis of the Database of Japanese Collections in the UK and Ireland, in which Manchester Museum’s internationally important Japanese collection is included. This comprehensive publication, as funded by the Inter-University Research Institute Corporation National Institutes for the Humanities, scrutinises access to UK Japanese collections on-line. This publication is a must for anyone interested in Japanese collections and access to museum databases on-line.

It was exciting to hear further news about Manchester Art Gallery’s forthcoming East Asian exhibition by Janet Boston, Curator: Collections Access at Manchester City Galleries. Development of the exhibition has led to a fundamental reappraisal of Manchester Art Gallery’s Japanese collection and stimulated contemporary collecting. We’ll be loaning several pieces from our Japanese collection to support the exhibition.

There are almost 2000 Japanese objects in the Living Cultures collection. They range from large pieces of furniture to intricately carved netsuke. The majority of the collection belongs to the 1958 Robert Wylie Lloyd bequest, an industrialist who also bequeathed his butterfly collection. Interestingly the Japanese collection bequest was split between us and the British Museum. Damian Scully, Objects in Mind Project Lead, recently shot a short film of one of the objects included in the Lloyd bequest which you can see below.


All this talk of Japan stimulated me to read again a captivating article called A Samurai at Oxford published in the Manchester Evening News 2nd December 1982. The article details the exploits of Mr Nori Shibahara described as a ‘sort of unpaid Japanese consul’ , a gift shop owner on Brazenose Street, whose ancestor Saburo Ozaki arrived in the UK in 1867 dressed in full samurai attire. Shibahara arrived in Manchester in 1966 when the article claims there were only two other Japanese people ‘a judo instructor and a nurse’. Shibahara was conscious of the lack of understanding about Japan and it’s people, culture and history when he first arrived. He stated that ‘I’ve been to bookshops in Manchester to find books on Japan and when I’ve opened them, they’ve shown hairstyles 100 years out of date’. As chairman of the North West Japanese Society Shibahara promoted greater understanding of Japan across the region. In this vein, with our ever popular Japanese display in the Living Cultures gallery, we’re continuing to promote further understanding and interest in Japan across Manchester.



Japanese Cornish Treasure

Today I had the pleasure of welcoming Dr. Satoko Parker from Philadelphia, USA, to the Museum. Dr. Parker was visiting to view our wonderful collection of Hamada Shōji pots.

Dr. Parker in the Living Cultures ceramic store. 2012.

Hamada (1894 –1978) was an internationally renowned Japanese potter and remains a seminal figure in the history of ceramics. Upon meeting the British potter Bernard Leach  in 1920 Hamada moved to St. Ives, Cornwall, UK, and stayed until 1923. During this time he produced some exquisite pieces, 3 of which belong to the Manchester Museum and can be seen on display in the World Cultures gallery.  

Stoneware jug. Hamada Shōji. 1920-1923. St. Ives, Cornwall, UK.The Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection.

Hamada’s pots form part of a much larger studio pottery collection which includes pieces by Bernard Leach and Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie.

Stoneware vase. Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie. 1925-1930. Coleshill, Berkshire, UK. The Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection.

 Stephen Terence Welsh

Curator of Living Cultures

Gateway to Asia

The Manchester Museum recently became an official member of Virtual Collection of Masterpieces, an ASEMUS – The Asia Europe Museum Network project. The sheer quality and international significance of the Living Cultures Asia collection secured our inclusion.

The Oriental Gallery, The Manchester Museum, 1980s.

We’re in good company, as other fellow members include such esteemed institutions as:

  •  The British Museum
  • The Museum of World Cultures, Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  • University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
  • National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, Japan
  • National Museum of Korea, Seoul, Republic of Korea 


The aim of the project is to showcase and share information about the very many wonderful Asian collections which reside in European and Asian museums. We currently have 10 records online which you can view by following the link below:



Stephen Terence Welsh

Curator of Living Cultures

Living Cultures, Living Planet & Guardian Lions

The Museum is currently looking forward to the opening of the brand new Living Planet gallery in early 2011. This exciting redevelopment will balance the beauty of the Museum’s recently restored Victorian internal design with a radical reinterpretation of the natural environment collections.

As a museum we are always keen to reveal the connections  bewteen the seemingy very different collections and the new Living Planet gallery has provided a perfect opportunity to do this. I have recently been working with Henry McGhie, Head of Collections and Curator of Zoology, to select relevant objects from the Living Cultures collection for incluion in the new gallery.

The gallery will explore the impact of nature on human culture and popular imagination. One animal that has captivated humankind for thousands of years is the majestic lion. The lion is a symbol of strength, boldness and courage. It is little wonder then that lions, or specifically  guardian lions, made from stone or metal, protect the entrance to Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines or even the homes of powerful individuals throughout South-East Asia. In the Living Cultures collection we have a stunning bronze guardian lion from Japan donated in 1958 by Robert Wylie Lloyd. It’s hoped that this sculpture will be included in the new gallery.

Bronze guardian lion, Japan. The Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection. 2010.

To keep up to date with the development of the Living Planet gallery visit Henry McGhie’s blog at http://naturemanchester.wordpress.com/

Stephen Terence Welsh

Curator of Living Cultures