’Japonisme’: Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art reopens at the V&A

The V&A’s Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art, originally opened in 1986, has re-opened after a six-month refurbishment programme. The new-look space will exhibit 550 works, a mere fraction of the 40,000 pieces in the permanent collection.

A museum with glass cases containing Japanese crockery and clothing.
The V&A’s Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art has reopened after a long period of refurbishment
(Image credit: Victoria and Albert Museum)

The V&A’s Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art, originally revealed in 1986, has re-opened after a six-month refurbishment programme. The new-look space will exhibit 550 works, a mere fraction of the 40,000 pieces in the permanent collection.

The gallery retains the Stanton Williams-designed wooden building-within-a-building, a nod to traditional Japanese architecture, but the lighting and internal fabric has been updated. The redesign has taken into account the changing nature of the collection, which now includes pieces of interior and product design, fashion, electronics, photography and graphics as well as crowd-pleasing Samurai armour and kimonos, ceramics and lacquer work.

Works on display include a selection of Naoto Fukasawa-designed mobile phone; Sony’s first Walkman, launched in 1979; a Hello Kitty rice cooker; an origami inspired outfit from Issey Miyake; Noritaka Tatehana’s high-heels-on-a-plinth; Shiro Kuramata’s Cabinet de Curiosité from 1989; and BCXSY’s lovely folding screen from 2010.

The strength of the V&A’s collection of Japanese art and objects is partly down to timing. 'Japonisme', a craze for all things Japanese, was all the rage amongst the metropolitan elites of Paris and London when the museum opened in the mid-19th century. But, as the gallery makes clear, even as our fascination has waxed and waned, the Japanese capacity for extraordinary craftsmanship, technical innovation and radical design has been a constant.

Japanese suit of armour in Haramaki style.

In the gallery, you can find treasures and artefacts that pay respect to British 19th century orientalism, and the ethos of ’Japonisme’ that aided the gallery’s original opening. Pictured: suit of armour in Haramaki styleJapan, 19th century.

(Image credit: Victoria and Albert Museum)

A Japanese lamp with a rope on top of it.

Around 550 of the institution’s 40,000 permanent collection works will be displayed in the Toshiba Gallery. Pictured: Inroby Shibata Zeshin, Japan, 1865.

(Image credit: Victoria and Albert Museum)

A Japanese painting of a theater.

The Nakamura-za was one of the three main kabuki (which can be translated as ’avant-garde’ or ’bizarre’) theatres in Japan, where this traditional, theatrical form of dance was performed. Pictured: screen depicting the Nakamura-za Kabuki Theatre, Japan, late 1680s.

(Image credit: Victoria and Albert Museum)

Three Japanese amphora's of different sizes with floral paintings on them.

In traditional cloisonné, wires are attached to a metal body and coloured enamels are applied between them, creating intricate images. The master cloisonné artist Namikawa Yasuyuki (1845–1927) founded a hugely successful workshop in Kyoto and became a key exporter of this style of vase. Pictured: cloisonné enamel vases by Namikawa Yasuyuki, Kyoto, Japan c.1880–90.

(Image credit: Victoria and Albert Museum)

A Japanese basket made from bamboo.

Tanabe Shochiku comes from a long line of successful bamboo artists and has exhibited work in the most prestigious galleries in Japan – it’s only fitting his beautiful work is included here. Pictured: AUN II, by Tanabe Shochiku, Japan, 2014. 

(Image credit: Tanabe Chikuunsai)

A pair of Japanese wooden shoes with purple markings on them.

These traditional form of Japanese sandals – known as geta – are designed for comfort, with an elevated wooden base and fabric thong. Pictured: a pair of geta sandals, 1930–40.

(Image credit: Victoria and Albert Museum)

Pictured left, red heelless shoes with a gold pattern by Noritaka Tatehana. 2014. Right, a long black sleeveless dress from ‘132 5’ collection by Issey Miyake.

Pictured left: heelless shoes by Noritaka Tatehana. 2014. Right: dress from ‘132 5’ collection by Issey Miyake.

(Image credit: Victoria and Albert Museum)

Six mobile phones in different sizes and colours.

Six mobile phones: au Infobar, au W11K, au Neon, au Infobar 2 shop display model and au Infobar A01 shop display model, by Naoto Fukasawa, 2001–2011. Photography: Naoto Fukasawa.

(Image credit: Naoto Fukasawa)

Pictured left, a Hello Kitty rice steamer. Right, a JVC Videosphere.

Pictured left: Hello Kitty rice steamer, Sokar International Inc, Japan, 2014. Right: JVC Videosphere, JVC Ltd, Japan, 1974.

(Image credit: Victoria and Albert Museum)

A museum with glass cases filled with Japanese crockery and painting on the walls..

As the gallery makes clear, even as our fascination has waxed and waned, the Japanese capacity for extraordinary craftsmanship, technical innovation and radical design has been a constant

(Image credit: Victoria and Albert Museum)

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Photography courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum

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