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.



Meme See, Meme Do

Over the past several months no-one, not even United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, escaped the infectious K-pop sensation that was Gangam Style. What seemed equally as infectious was the desire by thousands, if not millions, of people across the globe to produce their own, increasingly outlandish, versions of the associated music video. Even Chinese artist Ai Weiwei utilised it to great subversive affect.

This seemingly absurd and comical behaviour is actually quite a crucial exercise in human behaviour and the spread of culture. A meme is a form of expression or way of thinking that is passed from one person to another within a particular culture or society. In the past this used to occur on a local, regional or national level, but with the advent of worldwide mass telecommunications this can now happen on a global scale. The spread of such memes via the internet is often described as viral and continues to prove both popular and irresistible, particularly within the field of amateur music videos. The latest craze is Harlem Shake as illustrated by our very own University of Manchester students…

Entente Cordiale or Bulldog Spirit?

The painting Entent Cordiale currently on display in Breed: The British and their Dogs seems all the more poignant today following British prime minster David Cameron’s EU referendum speech yesterday. The painting was commissioned to commemorate a series of political agreements between France and Britain in the early 20th century. It depicts an English and French bulldog, both British breeds.

Entente Cordiale by Fannie Moody. The paiting depicts an English and French bulldog.

Entente Cordiale by Fannie Moody (Mrs. Gilbert King) 1861-1947. The Kennel Club.


If you haven’t already seen the painting or the exhibition pop down to Manchester Museum tonight for our Breed After Hours event. The event is free and starts at 6pm, you’ll be able to explore the exhibition, meet some real life dogs and their breeders, and Manchester University academics currently researching the history of British dog breeding! For further details visit http://www.museum.manchester.ac.uk/whatson/exhibitions/breedthebritishtheirdogs/

A Mancunian Mantra: Part II

It’s only several weeks now until the Dalai Lama visits Manchester, and as promised I have more wonderful Tibetan objects from the Living Cultures collection to share with you.

In 1969 Salford Museum transferred their collection of ethnography to the Manchester Museum, included in this transfer was an ornate Tibetan brass tea-pot.

Brass tea-pot. Tibet. 1800-1899. The Manchester Museum Living Cultures collection.

Such tea-pots are used in Buddhist monasteries in Tibet to provide monks with refreshment during their remarkably long ceremonies. This particular tea-pot is likely to have been made and used in the 19th century, making it over 100 years old. Similar in age is a wooden tea-bowl intricately decorated with skulls and Buddhas made from brass, silver and turquoise.

Tea bowl. Tibet. 1800-1899. The Manchester Living Cultures collection.

 The bowl was collected by Arnold Forrester Warden, a collector passionate about East Asia, and donated to the Museum in 1964.

I’ll be back in June with part III and more fascinating Tibetan objects.

Pharmaceuticals and Shamans

Earlier this month I gave a lecture to NHS staff the focus of which was the relationship between the Living Cultures collection and the history of medicine. It was part of a week-long series of events called Culture Shots which aimed at introducing NHS staff to the very many cultural assets in and around Manchester. You can find out further details about this project at http://www.healthandculture.org.uk/

Pestle. Oceania, Cook Islands, Mauke. Henry Wellcome. The Manchester Museum Living Cultures Collection.

The lecture explored the life of one particularly important 19th century entrepeneur and collector whose objects form an integral component of the Living Cultures collection, namely Sir Henry Solomon Wellcome. Born in 1853 in Almond, Wisconsin, USA, Wellcome migrated to the UK in 1880. Whilst here his pharmaceutical company, Burroughs Wellcome & Company, became a market leader and with it came a vast personal fortune. Recreationally, he was a passionate ameatuer ethnographer and was fascinated with medicinal practice and around the world. He indulged this passion using his fortune and acquired an astonishing personal collection of 1,500,000 objects, 125,000 may well have had some medical use. Upon his death in 1936 the Wellcome Trust became responsible for administering his estate, it invested heavily in medical research, and continues to do so, and took the difficult decision to rationalise the huge collection. This rationalisation saw parts of the collection distributed to other museums throughout the UK and internationally. To find out more about the life of Sir Henry Wellcome and the work of the Wellcome Trust visit http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/

Sir Henry Wellcome. Copyright The Wellcome Trust.

The Living Cultures collection generously received over 1000 objects as donated in 1926, 1953, 1957, 1981 and finally in 1983. Not all of the objects in question are directly related to the history of medicine but a significant percentage are. Some of the wonderful objects from the Wellcome collection that we have here at the Manchester Museum can be seen below.

Mask. Asia, Sri Lanka. Henry Wellcome. The Manchester Museum Living Cultures Collection.


Feather head-dress. Henry Wellcome. South America, Brazil. Henry Wellcome. The Manchester Museum Living Cultures Collection.

Pestle. Oceania. Henry Wellcome. The Manchester Museum Living Cultures Collection.

The fascination with non-Western medicinal practice is as strong as it ever was, with shows like Channel 4s recent Medicine Men Go Wild testifying to this.

Medicine Men Go Wild. Copyright Channel 4.

Stephen Terence Welsh

Curator of Living Cultures

Queens and Cotton

With the UK press hotly debating the significance of the British Royal Family it’s fascinating to think that Victorian Manchester was a veritable monarch magnet. Queen Victoria had an intimate relationship with the city in the late 19th century but  so too did a lesser known contemporary, namely Queen Ranavalona III of Madagascar.

Queen Ranavalona III of Madagascar, 1861 - 1917

In an attempt to deter the French from colonising Madagascar Ranavalona strengthened diplomatic and economic ties with the UK and USA. Manchester had been exporting cotton cloth to Madagascar throughout the 19th century so Ranavalona would have been acutely aware of the citys economic importance.

Tootal-Broadhurst and Lee Co Building, Victorian cotton manufacturers, Manchester

In recognition of this Ranavlona sought the favour of Sir Kenneth Lee of  Tootal-Broadhurst and Lee Co, eminent Manchester cotton manufactorers. She did this by corresponding with Lee via her ambassadors and by means of a royal gift in the form of an exquisite piece of Malagasy lamba cloth. The cloth was eventually donated to the Manchester Museum by Lee’s sister-in-law Mrs. Crawley in 1936.

Malagasy lamba cloth, Madagascar, late 19th century. Living Cultures collection, the Manchester Museum

Unfortunately, Ranavalona’s attempts to stave off colonisation failed, by 1886 she was in exile and the French had seized control of the island nation. Lamba cloth sent by Ranavalona to important individuals can now be found in entnographic collections in both the UK and USA. These royal gifts are testiment to one woman’s struggle to desperately defend her kingdom.

Stephen Terence Welsh

Curator of Living Cultures