万国博覧会と「日本美術」 The World Expo and Japanese Art


The Dubai World Expo, which was postponed due to the influence of Corona, has just started today. In fact, the Expo is deeply involved in the development of traditional Japanese crafts, lacquer work. So this time, I would like to summarize a little about the history of Japan and the Expo.

万国博覧会の始まり The beginning of the world exposition

万国博覧会は1851年に当時 産業革命の成果が著しいイギリス(第1回ロンドン万博)から始まりました。万博は世界各国が最新の産業や技術などを展示して競い合う催しです。


The World’s Fair began in 1851 in England (the 1st London World’s Fair), where the Industrial Revolution was so successful at the time. The Expo is an event in which countries around the world compete by exhibiting the latest industries and technologies.

Two years later, in 1853, the New York World Industrial Exhibition was held in the United States. The 1st Paris Exposition was held in 1855 in Paris, France, in opposition to the United Kingdom and the United States. At this Expo, art was a major pillar in addition to industry. It is a big point that art is also added here.


At this time, Japan was still in the Edo Shogunate era and did not participate in the first Expo. The first participation was the 2nd London Expo in 1862. In addition, this is not official, and the crafts were exhibited by the Ambassador to Japan and visited by a Japanese research team. After that, the Satsuma Domain, Saga Domain, and Edo merchants participated a little at the 2nd Paris Expo. Of course, many Japanese crafts such as lacquer work, ceramics, folding screens, and ukiyo-e were exhibited there. From there, Japan will actively participate in the Expo after the Meiji Restoration. The World’s Fair had a great influence on the modernization of Japan.

年 Year国 Country海外の万国博覧会 Overseas World Expo日本の参加 Japan participation
1851イギリス UK第1回ロンドン万博
1st London Expo
1853アメリカ USAニューヨーク万国産業博覧会
New York World Industry Expo
1855フランス FR第1回パリ万博
1st Paris Expo
1862イギリス UK第2回ロンドン万博
2nd London Expo
Exhibit by Ambassador to Japan
1867フランス FR第2回パリ万博
2nd Paris Expo
Shogunate, Satsuma Domain, Saga Domain exhibited for the first time
1873オーストリア ATウィーン万博
Vienna World Expo
First official exhibition by the Japanese government
1876アメリカ USAフィラデルフィア万博
Philadelphia Expo
Exhibiting many arts and crafts “Kogei”
1878フランス FR第3回パリ万博
3rd Paris Expo
Japanese arts and crafts “Kogei” fever rises

日本では政府が公式出品後に万国博覧会の有用性を痛感して、国内でもフィラデルフィア万博の翌年の1877年に第1回内国勧業博覧会を開催しています。In Japan, the government was keenly aware of the usefulness of the World Expo after its official exhibition, and held the 1st National Industrial Exhibition in Japan in 1877, the year after the Philadelphia Expo.

博物館建設 Museum construction




With this World Expo as a trigger, “what is a museum” was learned in Japan, and the establishment of a museum began. Now, the exhibition divisions at the National Museum and the terms and concepts such as “art”, “painting”, “sculpture”, and “crafts Kogei” have been triggered by the exhibition at this World’s Fair.

The term “craft Kogei” was coined in this era.

It can be said that the World’s Fair laid the origin for the exhibition of Japanese museums. Taking on challenges overseas will lead to the development of Japanese traditional craft techniques and the best work of craftsmen.

「蒔絵」の区分 Classification of “Maki-e”


Among those categories, the one that was a problem was the “Maki-e” category. Although lacquer work is classified as “craft”, lacquer work has both “craft” and “painting” elements. In addition to the genre as a work, the genre as a person is also a “craftsman” for lacquer work and a “painter” for painting.


Shibata Zeshin, a master lacquer artist who had been exhibiting at the Expo since the first exhibition by the government in 1873, was both a Japanese painter and a lacquer artist. He also drew the sketches himself, and also painted lacquer on paper (urushi-e) and lacquer ware. He has left various works, sometimes as a painter and sometimes as a lacquer artist.

柴田是真 漆絵画帖(サントリー美術館『ミネアポリス美術館 日本絵画の名品』展より/撮影可能品)Zeshin Shibata /Album of Lacquer Pictures (Masterpieces from the Japanese painting collection of the Minneapolis Intstitute of Art/From Suntory Museum of Art Exhibition Photographable Items)
柴田是真『雪中鷲図』(東京国立博物館所蔵/撮影可能品)Zeshin Shibata “Eagle in the Snow” (Tokyo National Museum collection / photographable item)


From the first exhibition of the Japanese government, Zeshin put a lacquer work in the frame, following the Western painting, and exhibited it as a framed “Maki-e frame”. This has been recognized as a new form of lacquer work. This style was also used in metal crafts and ceramics. He is also a person who has increased the value of lacquer work as a pictorial element and the value of crafts as art. At that time, when the division of labor between Japanese painters and craftsmen who drew sketches was commonplace, it can be said that this work could only be done by Zeshin, who was also a Japanese painter and a lacquer artist.

柴田是真『蓮鴨蒔絵額』(東京国立博物館所蔵/撮影可)1881年.帝室博物館献納品Zeshin Shibata “Plaque with Wild Ducks and Lotus” (Tokyo National Museum collection / photographable) 1881. Dedicated to the Imperial Museum



In Japan, it is true that everyone involved in lacquer art knows, but it may not be well known to the general public in Japan. However, he is a proud Japanese and historical figure of Japan who has upgraded Maki-e to the world of art and spread lacquer art overseas with his transcendental lacquer Maki-e technique and painting ability. And he is a famous Maki-e artist with many collectors in the world. Many of the works of Zeshin are exhibited in overseas museums. Most of the Inros at the Honolulu Museum of Art, which I mentioned in my past inro posts, are Zeshin’s works.

It can also be said that Zeshin’s achievements have expanded the world of lacquer work, and the lacquer artist after Zeshin has become both a craftsman and a writer.

日本美術を「美術館」へ Japanese art to “museum”


In response to the high praise of crafts ”Kogei” from the first exhibition, the government has brought together the best Japanese painters and craftsmen in Japan to make many works, and is focusing on the National Industrial Exhibition and the World’s Fair overseas. However, Japanese paintings, sculptures, and crafts “Kogei”, which are Japanese exhibits, were not recognized as fine art in the Western concept. As a result, it was not exhibited at the “Museum”. Twenty years after the first exhibition, after repeated protests, Japanese art, including crafts, was exhibited at the “Museum” for the first time at the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition.


During this period, there was the enthusiasm of many people who worked to expand the world of Japanese art and crafts. Today’s Japanese art is due to the achievements of the people at that time who made their works for the sake of Japan’s national interests and the Japanese who firmly grasped the current value of Japanese art and accurately conveyed it. Meiji crafts are all wonderful works that are also described as fine crafts and transcendental craftsmanship. It is an important history of Japan that the Japanese must know.


I love the works of Meiji crafts, including lacquer work, so I often go to exhibitions and the 18 rooms of the Tokyo National Museum. I would like to introduce you little by little from now on.

(東京国立博物館本館大階段) 18室は写真左手のミュージアムショップの隣にあります。(Tokyo National Museum Main Building Grand Staircase) Room 18 is next to the museum shop on the left side of the photo.

参考文献 References

  • 別冊太陽 日本のこころ 217『明治の細密工芸 驚異の超絶技巧!』.平凡社,2014
  • 別冊太陽 日本のこころ 163『柴田是真 幕末・明治に咲いた漆芸の超絶技巧』.平凡社,2009
  • 文化庁監修『日本の美術2 No.93 柴田是真』.至文堂,1974
  • 根津美術館図録『ZESHIN柴田是真の漆工・漆絵・絵画』,2012
  • 霞会館図録『美術工芸の半世紀 明治の万国博覧会 1 デビュー』,2015
  • サントリー美術館図録『ミネアポリス美術館 日本絵画の名品』,2021


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