Meiji at 150: Meiji Japan and Victorian Britain in dialogue

In January 1868 the Tokugawa Shogunate, who had controlled Japan for two hundred and thirty years relinquished power to the fifteen-year-old Emperor, now known posthumously as the Emperor Meiji. On this, the occasion of the sesquicentennial of the Meiji Restoration, the Victorian Society and the Japan Society are coming together to discuss how life in both Japan and the West changed during the Emperor Meiji’s reign which coincided, almost exactly, with the second half of Queen Victoria’s reign and Edward VII’s subsequent monarchy.

We are delighted to welcome a distinguished line up of speakers to present papers as part of this one-day seminar. The day will be bookended by scene-setting talks, and will include panels each considering the subject from a different perspective.

Martin Dusinberre, Professor of Global History at the University of Zurich, will start the day with an overview of Meiji Japan, bringing together a Strong painting, an Armstrong ship and shows of strength in the late-nineteenth century world.

The first panel will focus on diplomacy. Sir David Warren, former Ambassador to Japan and Chairman of the Japan Society, will introduce the scholar, diplomat and Japanologist, Sir Ernest Satow. Satow first went to Japan as a member of the Consular Service from 1862 to 1883 and witnessed the Meiji Restoration and the country’s early modernisation. There his language skills made him indispensable to the first British Minister Plenipotentiary, Sir Harry Parkes, on whom, as well as the Japanese Ministers to the Court of St James, Dr Andrew Cobbing of the University of Nottingham will be speaking.

It was through the vehicle of international exhibitions that the West very often learned about Japan, the first display of Japanese work being that assembled by Sir Harry Parkes for the 1862 Exhibition in London. In the second panel, Dr Angus Lockyer of SOAS and Dr Ayako Hotta-Lister, an independent scholar, will investigate the international exhibitions which so facilitated Japan’s exposure to the West, culminating in the 1910 Japan-British Exhibition in London.

The consequent fashion for Japonisme which emerged in the later 19th century was very much a result of these exhibitions. In the third panel, dedicated to visual arts, Professor Toshio Watanabe of the University of the Arts, London, will consider Japonisme in Britain while Dr Monika Hinkel of SOAS will explore the work of woodblock print artists in early Meiji Japan and their responses to the social and political upheaval of the time.

In Japan, the house and garden cannot be separated either physically or conceptually. Both Britain and Japan are island countries and quite wet ones at that. Although the garden is perceived differently in both places it very often receives the same attention. Thus the presentation on Japanese-style gardens in Britain and Ireland by Dr Jill Raggett of Writtle University College should come as no surprise, although the examples of Meiji-era houses and gardens in Japan, shown by Professor Neil Jackson of the University of Liverpool, might raise some eyebrows.

The Study Day will end with Natasha Pulley, the author of the international best-seller and award-winning novel, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (Bloomsbury, 2015), talking about writing historical fiction set in Victorian London and Meiji Japan and, possibly, about a clockwork octopus.

Date: Saturday 27 January 2018, 10am to 5.30pm (Doors open at 9.30am)
Venue: The Art Workers’ Guild, 6 Queen Square, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 3AT

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