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Collections & galleries

OO-IX by Shigeki Hayashi

OO-IX by Shigeki Hayashi. Slip-cast porcelain with glazes and platinum lustre, 2013. Museum no. FE.100-2013. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The V&A was founded in 1852. During its early years it acquired a great many Japanese objects, thereby playing a significant role in bringing the art of Japan to the attention of designers, manufacturers and the British public.

Today the V&A has one of the most comprehensive collections of Japanese art in the world. The holdings, which number over 48,500 objects, include ceramics, lacquer, arms and armour, woodwork, metalwork, textiles and dress, prints, paintings and sculpture. With the exception of some early metalwork, ceramics and Buddhist sculpture, most objects date from the Edo (1615-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912) periods. Of particular interest is the V&A's collection of Edo-period ukiyo-e (‘pictures of the floating world’), which, with over 30,000 prints, paintings, drawings and albums, is one of the largest and finest in the world. An active programme of acquiring modern and contemporary studio crafts has resulted in the V&A having one of the most prestigious holdings of this material outside Japan. The Museum also has one of the most comprehensive collections of Japanese enamels in the world, as well as the earliest documented examples of this art form in any museum.

Highlights from the collections are displayed in the Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art, which opened in December 1986. Examples of Japanese art can also be found in many other galleries, including the Ceramics Galleries, which display examples of both historical and contemporary Japanese work, the British Galleries and the Furniture Gallery.

After being closed for refurbishment for six months, the Toshiba Gallery will re-open to the public in November 2015. Major improvements have been made to the interiors of the display cases, the lighting and the graphics. Gallery interactives focusing on dress and samurai culture have been introduced, and the displays have been re-curated and re-configured to give more space to modern and contemporary objects. Of the 550 objects featured in the new displays, 400 have not been exhibited in the gallery before, and 30 are new acquisitions.


At the V&A

The V&A has been very active in presenting Japanese creativity to its audiences through a series of successful exhibitions.

  • Yohji Yamamoto (March – July 2011): This exhibition focussed on one of the world’s most influential fashion designers.
  • Kitty and the Bulldog (2012): A display exploring the influence of Britain on the cult Japanese Lolita fashion movement, it was shown in the Toshiba Gallery as part of the V&A’s 2012 British Design Season.
  • The Seven Treasures: Japanese Cloisonné Enamels from the V&A (14 June 2011 – 19 August 2012): This exhibition showcased an important Japanese collection donated to the V&A by Edwin Davies OBE. Since the end of the display at the V&A in 2012, a selection from the gift, together with examples from the historical collection, has toured across the U.K. to the Bolton Museum and Archive (6 October 2012 – 5 January 2013), the Weston Park Gallery in Sheffield (26 January – 2 June 2013), the Horsham Museum and Art Gallery (15 June – 21 September 2013), the Willis Museum in Basingstoke (5 October – 16 November 2013), the Gallery in Winchester (23 November 2013 – 5 January 2014), the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent (22 March – 5 May 2014), the Palace Green Library in Durham University (17 May – 31 August 2014), and the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin (14 March 2015 – 14 June 2015). The tour finishes at the Brading Roman Villa in the Isle of Wight (27 June – 20 September 2015).

In Japan

The V&A works regularly with colleagues in Japan. Exhibitions drawn from the V&A's collections have been travelling to Japan since the 1980s. 

A revised version of the V&A exhibition The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900 was presented at the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum in Tokyo and re-titled The Beautiful: Art for Art’s Sake: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900.  The exhibition was shown from 30 January to 6 May 2014, and received over 105,000 visitors.

Other major tours in the last 15 years have included the following:

  • William Morris (1997-1998): It toured the Kyoto National Modern Art Museum, Tokyo National Modern Art Museum, and Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, attracting over 299,000 visitors.
  • Aubrey Beardsley (1998-1999): It toured the Koriyama City Museum of Art, Kintetsu Museum of Art, Sogo Museum of Art, and Odakyu Museum.
  • One Hundred British Watercolours from the Victoria and Albert Museum (1999-2000): It toured the Iruma City Museum, Hiratsuka City Museum of Art, Himeji Museum of Art, and Koriyama City Museum of Art.
  • Art Nouveau (2001-2002): It was shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Tokyo, attracting 310,000 visitors.
  • The Romantic Tradition in British Painting 1800-1950 (2001-2003): It was presented at the Chiba Prefectural Museum, Matsuzakaya Museum, Koriyama City Museum, and Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art.
  • Peter Rabbit’s Garden: The Secret World of Beatrix Potter (2002-2003): It toured the Children’s Museum of Okazaki and the Daimaru Museum in Kobe, Kyoto, and Osaka, attracting over 121,800 visitors.
  • Palace and Mosque: Islamic Art from the Victoria and Albert Museum (October – December 2005): It was presented at the Setagaya Art Museum in Tokyo.
  • Vivienne Westwood (2005): The tour included the Metropolitan Museum, Tokyo, Fukuoka Kyushu Municipal Museum, and Osaka Suntory Museum.
  • Art Deco (2005): The tour included the Metropolitan Museum, Tokyo, Fukuoka Kyushu Municipal Museum, and Osaka Suntory Museum, attracting over 80,000 visitors.
  • Masterpieces of Ukiyo-E from the V&A (2007-2008): An exhibition of Japanese prints, paintings and illustrated books from the V&A’s collection travelled to the Ota Memorial Museum of Art (Tokyo), the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art, Hagi Uragami Museum, Matsuzakaya Art Museum (Nagoya), the Kobe City Museum, the Iwaki City Art Museum, and the Nagasaki Prefectural Museum. The tour attracted over 193,500 visitors.
  • Life and Arts: Arts and Crafts from Morris to Mingei (2008-2009): The tour included the National Museum of Modern Art (Kyoto), the Metropolitan Art Museum (Tokyo), and Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art (Nagoya), attracting 240,800 visitors.

V&A Loans

The V&A continues to receive regular requests from Japan for major loans for touring exhibitions. In 2010 the V&A made a significant loan of 86 objects to the exhibition: Beatrix Potter – Affection for Nature and Art. This five-venue tour of Japan was organised with Book Globe Ltd. Another 15 objects formed part of a six-venue tour to Japan of the exhibition Lucie Rie: A Retrospective, which closed in June 2011. In 2012, the V&A loaned objects for the Burne-Jones exhibition held at the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum in Tokyo, the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, and the Koriyama City Museum of Art. In the same year, a group of 25 works on paper, together with ceramics and furniture, was lent to the exhibition Katagami Style held at the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum in Tokyo, the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto and the Mie Prefectural Museum of Art in Tsu City. The V&A also lent a number of objects to Debussy, Music and the Arts at the Bridgestone Museum, Tokyo, July-October 2012, organised by the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.

In 2014, the Museum loaned objects to the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto for the exhibitions Kyoto, Re-creation of Reminiscence - Lacquerware in Modern Japan and Whistler Retrospective (also to be shown at the Yokohama Museum of Art). In 2014, the V&A also loaned to two major exhibitions, one on Vallotton at the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum in Tokyo and one on Millet at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in Nagoya.

So far in 2015, the Museum has loaned important objects to the inaugural exhibition at the Oita Prefectural Museum, Kyushu for the exhibition Modern Blossoming Garden: Oita encounters the Global Masterpieces of the World.

Notable loans to the V&A from Japanese lenders to date have included fourteen extremely important works dating from the 10th to 15th centuries from the collections of the Kyoto National Museum, the Osaka Municipal Museum of Fine Art, and the Tokyo National Museum for the exhibition Masterpieces of Chinese Painting, 700 – 1900 (October 2013 – January 2014) at the V&A.

Learning and Audience Engagement

For Adults

  • The Digital Team in the Learning Department worked with the ICN Gallery in Japan in the showcasing of a new interactive performance by Japanese artist Daito Manabe at the Digital Design Weekend as part of the London Design Festival in September 2015.
  • Japan, together with Korea and China, now features as a permanent part of the V&A’s Arts of East Asia Year Course, most recently being held from September 2015 to July 2016. The course divides into 18 weeks devoted to China, six weeks to Korea, and 12 weeks to Japan. This course will be run again in 2017.
  • A conference on the theme of Collecting Future Japan, to mark the re-opening of the Toshiba Gallery, is scheduled for 27 May 2016. With more space devoted to the contemporary in the refurbished Toshiba Gallery, this one-day conference will examine emerging trends in Japanese design and consider what kinds of objects museums such as the V&A should be collecting both now and in the future. This conference is being staged with the support of the Sainsbury Centre for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures (SISJAC). 

For families

  • Workshops and drop-in activities encourage visitors to explore and be inspired by Japanese art and culture in the V&A’s galleries and offer them a chance to create their own works.

For schools

  • The Toshiba Gallery is included in one of the V&A’s most popular tours for Primary Schools, “V&A Voyage”. In this session, pupils are given the chance to explore key objects from a range of different countries, including China, Japan and the Islamic Middle East. The sessions look at traditional dress, stories from these different cultures and motifs found on objects and artefacts.

Special Education Needs Programme

  • The Special Education Needs (SEN) programme for Schools offers a range of multi-sensory sessions themed around key objects across the collections. Each session focuses on one key object and incorporates storytelling, role-play, dressing-up, touch objects, scents and sounds to help interpret the object. A popular session is based on samurai armour, where pupils look at and try on armour in the Medieval Renaissance galleries before exploring the armour in the Japan gallery. The session in the galleries is followed by a practical making session where pupils get to create their own samurai helmet.

Artist in Residence

  • The V&A Learning Department’s Residency programme aims to inspire public interest in contemporary practice and enable artists to further their career through engaging with V&A staff, collections and audiences. Two Japanese artists have participated in the programme in the last few years: Keiko Masumoto was the Toshiba Ceramics Resident from April to September 2013, and Japanese-born Nao Matsunaga was appointed as the Mid-Career UK-based Ceramics Resident for the period April to September 2014.


The V&A, together with its partners, invited Japanese fashion journalists to the opening events for Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty and coverage generated for the exhibition included Vogue Japan. The Museum is working on a press campaign on the refurbishment of the Toshiba Gallery of Art and Design, details of which were announced in August. There will also be a film focusing on the Japan collection and reopening of the gallery to use across international platforms. The V&A currently has more than 4,000 followers on social media from Japan.


Institutional Collaborations

As a centre of academic excellence, the V&A has established productive networks with universities, museums, and other institutions across Japan. These have included the following:

  • The support of the Toshiba Corporation allowed the establishment of the Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art at the V&A in December 1986, and this relationship has recently been extended until 31 December 2021. This is enabling the V&A to upgrade and redisplay the Toshiba Gallery and to publish a new introduction to Japanese art and design; both ventures are due for completion in early November 2015.
  • In collaboration with the Art Research Centre (ARC) of Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, an ongoing and long-term project has been the digitisation of the V&A’s Japanese print collection. The first outcome of this has been the uploading of 39,000 digital images of the collection onto the Museum’s online database.

Special Projects

The Mazarin Chest Project
This recent collaboration focused on the V&A’s Mazarin Chest, a large and exquisitely decorated piece of Japanese export lacquer made to the very highest of standards in Kyoto in the early 1640s.The Mazarin Chest Project, a four-year undertaking from 2004 funded by The Getty Foundation, the Toshiba International Foundation (TIFO) and the V&A, was a major collaborative research and conservation project involving conservators, curators and scientists from the UK, Japan, Germany and Poland. Informed by scientific research undertaken at several academic institutions, the project pioneered an integrated approach to the conservation of lacquer objects in which re-treatability and respect for the use of materials and techniques similar to those used at the time of manufacture were the guiding principles.

On completion of the conservation of the Mazarin Chest in 2008, it travelled to the Kyoto National Museum, the Suntory Museum of Art, Tokyo, and the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, with total visitor numbers of 209,977, before it returned to the V&A in October 2009. An international conference, Crossing Borders: The Conservation, Science and Material Culture of East Asian Lacquer, was then held at the V&A on 30-31 October 2009.

‘Fashion and Translation: Britain, Japan, China, Korea’
This is a research project led by Dr Sarah Cheang (Royal College of Art) and Dr Elizabeth Kramer (University of Northumbria) and funded by an AHRC Network grant to develop a network of UK- and internationally-based art and design historians, anthropologists, sociologists, artists, industry professionals and museum curators to investigate transnational fashion exchange from 1860 to the present between Britain, Japan, China, and Korea. Anna Jackson, Keeper of the V&A’s Asian Department, and Helen Persson, ex-V&A curator are core participants in the project. The first workshop was held by the Royal College of Art on 16-17 April 2014 and included a trip to the Clothworkers’ Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion at Blythe House. Further workshops have been held at the University of Northumbria, Newcastle (July 2014) and Bunka Gakuen University, Tokyo (February 2015). For future details, please visit the website.


In 2007, the Travel with the V&A programme organised a trip to Japan for major benefactors. The group visited sites in Tokyo, Kyoto, the Japan Alps and the famous Ise Shrine, enjoying private visits to special collections – including those of the Imperial Household – and meeting artists and designers. This visit helped to strengthen and build relationships with Japanese institutions and individuals and to raise awareness of these relationships among V&A supporters. 

Commercial Activities

Japan is a key market for the V&A's commercial activities. The Tokyo-based representative, Ms Junko Tajima, liaises with partners and new prospects to facilitate licence agreements and product/retail development on behalf of the V&A.

Licensing of the V&A brand and archive for lifestyle products has been particularly successful in Japan. Bed linen continues to be a consistently successful category. Kuwayama Corporation, the jewellery licensee in Japan, has established distribution through jewellery specialist Chow Sang Sang throughout Hong Kong, Greater China and Singapore, with excellent sales results.

A license has been agreed for a Japanese translation of the Clara Button book. This was published in August with Tokuma Shoten Publishing Co.


  • Greg Irvine, ed., Japanese Art and Design: The Collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum (London: V&A Publishing, forthcoming autumn 2015)
  • Julia Hutt and Edmund De Waal, Japanese Netsuke (London: V&A, 2012)
  • Shayne Rivers, Rupert Faulkner, Boris Pretzel, eds, East Asian Lacquer: Material Culture, Science and Conservation (London: Archetype Publications, 2011) 
  • Gregory Irvine, Japanese Cloisonné Enamels (London: V&A Publishing, 2011) 
  • Ligaya Salazar, ed., Yohji Yamamoto (London: V&A Publishing, 2011)
  • Julia Hutt, Japanese Netsuke (London: V&A Publishing, 2003)
  • Rupert Faulkner, Hiroshige Fan Prints (London: V&A Publishing, 2001)
  • Gregory Irvine, The Japanese Sword: the Soul of the Samurai (London: V&A Publishing, 2000)
  • Anna Jackson, Japanese Textiles in the Victoria and Albert Museum (London: V&A Publishing, 2000)

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