In light of the Vienna World’s Fair 1873
The East Asia Curatorial Department of the Weltmuseum Wien consists of 28.500 objects. About half of it, ca. 15.000 objects, are just from a single country, namely Japan. The majority of the Japanese collection comes from the 19th century. This huge amount of interest for Japanese culture can be traced back to 1873, the year of the Vienna World’s Fair.
Japan participated in the World’s Fairs in London and Paris, but it was the first time that Japan participated in a World’s Fair as a nation, and not only some domain of it. They did not shy away from any efforts. Much thought and work were put into their collection. The World’s Fair was an event at which countries had the chance to demonstrate their power through the display of cultural, scientific and industrial advancements. It was a competition between nations. Therefore , Japan wanted to show itself in the best possible light. Their exposition was an enormous success, and, in its wake, brought Japonism to Austria , inspiring many artists, such as Gustav Klimt.
The exposition shows a diverse collection of Japanese objects, starting with relics from Jōmon culture (14,000-300 BCE), Nō-theater properties, religious artifacts, Samurai swords, and armor, as well as a brick collection from Archduke Franz Ferdinand. It also features many objects that were shown at the Vienna World’s Fair, which lets the visitor get a glimpse into the Japanese contribution in 1873. The main object of the Japan exposition is the model of a daimyō (feudal lord) residence, which was shown at the Vienna World’s Fair. When curator Dr. Bettina Zorn decided to use it as the central object, it was in poor condition after decades of storage. It took years of restoration and 14.000 small bricks of different kinds to return it to its former beauty, but thanks to that the long-time hidden gem can now be admired by everyone again.
The Weltmuseum’s Japan exposition leads from the Edo period (1600-1868) to the 21st century. After taking a walk through the room, visitors can take a seat in a cinematic cube and watch a few scenes from the movie Miss Hokusai (2015). This movie focusses on the daughter of Hokusai, O-Ei, who helped her father many times with his artistic work – a fact that is practically unknown. It also shows a connection between Japanese tradition and its interpretation in the 21st century. Furthermore, one can listen to Mamba Masayuki, successor to the Musashiya model builder workshop that built the daimyō residence model, to learn more about it.
As shown above, many things are to be discovered and there is much to be learned, as one travels through the different periods of time. A highly recommended visit for anyone, who wants to immerse themselves in Japanese culture and an important part of history for the relations between Japan and Austria.
Text: Claudia Stoica
Translation: Adam Greguš, Leonie Krösslhuber
Master student majoring Japanese Studies, University of Vienna.
Graduated in 2017 in Japanese Studies and studied one year at the Kyōto University as part of an exchange program.