A mystery solved – the Taitokuin model returns home

Taitokuin MausoleumJust over a year ago I did a post on the Japan-British exhibition of 1910, tracking where the exhibits ended up when the exhibition was over. The one that interested me the most was the one-tenth scale model of the Taitokuin Mausoleum, the memorial to the second Tokugawa Shogun in Zojo-ji Temple in Shiba. It was presented to the then King, George V, and remained for many years in the Royal Collection in dismantled form. But then what happened? I’ve only just found out.

The original Taitokuin Mausoleum was built in 1632 in the precincts of the Tokugawa family temple of Zojo-ji as a memorial to Tokugawa Hidetada (1579 –1632), the second Tokugawa Shogun. Sadly, it was destroyed by wartime bombing of Tokyo in 1945.

Mausoleum of Taitokuin

The model was commissioned by the City of Tokyo for the 1910 Japan-British Exhibition in London, and was created by a team of carpenters, lacquer artists and sculptors under the supervision of experts at the Tokyo Art School, including the sculptor Takamura Koun.

Anglo-Japanese exhibition, Taitokuin Mausoleum modelAfter the exhibition it went to Kew Gardens, where  it was on display for many years, but was then dismantled and stored, forgotten. But, after lying in pieces for so long, last year it was sent back to Japan for restoration and reassembly, and will go on display at Zojo-ji as the centrepiece of an exhibition to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Hidetada’s father, which opens to the public today (2nd April).

Zojo-ji exhibition

Projection of how the exhibition will look. Courtesy of Zojo-ji

The model is 3.6 metres wide, 5.4 metres long and 1.8 metres high and replicates both the inside and the outside of the three interlocking buildings of the Taitokuin Mausoleum complex – the Main Hall, Worship Hall, and Connecting Hall. It faithfully incorporates the materials and techniques used in the Mausoleum, including thousands of miniature copper roof tiles, each the size of a thumb-nail.

Taitokuin Mausoleum Model undergoing restoration work. Lower roof of Main Hall (Honden) with copper tiles (dou-kawara)and decorative bronze fittings Credit: Courtesy of Zojo-ji

Taitokuin Mausoleum Model undergoing restoration work. Lower roof of Main Hall (Honden) with copper tiles (dou-kawara)and decorative bronze fittings. Courtesy of Zojo-ji

The conservation work has focused on the Main Hall, including repairing and cleaning the roof tiles, lacquered timber framing and doors, bamboo blinds, the Tokugawa family crests and the gilded wall paintings of the paradise of the Amida Buddha. The two Pillars of Paradise, which flank the main altar, have been restored, the fence surrounding the Mausoleum has been cleaned and reassembled, and the whole model restored to its former intricate and colourful glory.

Taitokuin model

Taitokuin Mausoleum Model undergoing restoration work . Interior of Main Hall (Honden). Courtesy of Zojo-ji

With thanks to Jane Wallis, a furniture restorer at the Royal Collection who took the Taitokuin model to Tokyo last April and who told me what had happened to it.

10 thoughts on “A mystery solved – the Taitokuin model returns home

  1. William Howard (Bill) Coaldrake, a specialist on Japanese timber buildings who worked on this project, was appointed MVO in the recent Birthday Honours “for services to the Royal Collection.”

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