Celts -the new blockbuster at the British Museum


Who were the Celts? Well, actually, we’re not quite sure. The new blockbuster exhibition at the British Museum tells us the people who lived in Britain and Ireland two thousand years ago never thought of themselves as Celts, and nor did the Romans when they were part of the Roman Empire. It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that the term started to be used to describe the pre-Romans of Western Europe and then the languages of Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany and the Isle of Man. Continue reading

The Ming Exhibition at the British Museum

Chinese Warriors I went along to the new Ming exhibition at the British Museum just because I wanted to see it, not thinking it would have much of a Japanese aspect to qualify it for a blog post. But, as so often happens, once I got there I found all sorts of references to Japan – not really surprising when you consider that Japan is China’s nearest neighbour after Korea. So here’s a Japanese take on a Chinese exhibition for you. Continue reading

Hokusai’s Great Wave – a view from the souvenir shop

Hokusai Great Wave souvenir apron I was in the British Museum the other day (as I often am) and, as I was passing the shop in the great court, a shopping bag printed with Hokusai’s Great Wave caught my eye. It made me wonder about the perspective people get who don’t climb the stairs (or take the hidden lift) to the fifth floor to see the Japanese collection, but just come across images in the shop. So I went to see what else was on offer. And got a bit of a shock. Continue reading

Style tips for the Bertie Woosters of old Japan

British Museum Dressing to Impress We’re so used to seeing netsuke (tiny ivory and wood carvings) reverently displayed in museums, it’s easy to forget that they’re actually fashion accessories, as important to the Bertie Woosters of old Edo as a Rolex is to their equivalents today. Or as a cigarette case and lighter was to Bertie and his chums at the Drones club before we found out that smoking kills. But now there’s a new mini-exhibition in Room 3 at the British Museum titled Dressing to Impress to bring us up to speed with samurai fashion. Continue reading

Puzzled by Tetsuya Noda at the British Museum

Tetsuya NodaThe British Museum keeps its permanent collection of Japanese art in rooms 92-94, up on the fifth floor at the back (access via the North stairs). It’s permanent in the sense that it’s not a limited-time special exhibition, but it’s not set in stone; it changes slowly, particularly with the passing of the seasons, so it’s always worth going back to see the latest offering. My friend Yannick, who works there as a volunteer tour guide, tips me off when there’s something new, and he’s the one who told me about the Tetsuya Noda exhibition.  Continue reading

Vikings and Cherry Blossom at the British Museum

BM Vikings Tyskegard Hoard

This post is a study in contrasts. I visited the British Museum to see the new blockbuster show about the Vikings, and took the opportunity to see a new folding screen in the Japanese collection as well. A bit of an odd combination, I know, but that’s the charm of London museums and galleries; you can see what you want, when you want, without anyone telling you they don’t go together. I enjoyed my ill-assorted mix – let’s see if you do too. Continue reading

Shunga at the British Museum

Shunga at the British MuseumOkay, I confess – I saw the shunga exhibition at the British Museum weeks ago and I’ve been putting off writing about it. I expect you can guess why. On the one hand it’s a major exhibition of Japanese art in London -right up my street. On the other hand, it’s shunga – which translates literally as spring pictures but is in fact a euphemism for explicit erotic art. You see my problem. Continue reading

Women of the Pleasure Quarters at the British Museum

Women of the Pleasure QuartersThe British Museum has a new small exhibition in Room 3 – the one on the right of the main entrance as you go in. It’s a screen painted by Toyoharu Utamaro depicting the courtesans of the Kado-Tamaya (The Jewel House on the Corner) waiting for customers. If you want to know what the life of a courtesan in eighteen century Japan was like, this is a good place to find out. Continue reading

The Perry Scroll

Perry Scroll

It’s the British Museum’s latest treasure; it cost nearly half a million pounds and it records a defining moment in the history of Japan, when two centuries of isolation came to an end and Japan agreed to trade with the west. It’s the Perry Scroll and it’s on display now, showing a different section each month between April and October. Continue reading

Asian Propaganda at the British Museum

The Mouse's Wedding

Propaganda flourishes in wartime, and the Asian Propaganda exhibition at the British Museum has plenty of examples from Japan’s twentieth century wars – with China (1894-5), Russia (1904-5), Korea (1905), China again (Asia-Pacific War 1931-1945), when Japan occupied Manchuria, and America and its allies (World War II 1941-1945). A sad start to the twentieth century, but a rich source of propaganda art. Continue reading