Working in and with Japan


The V&A was founded in 1852. From 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 originally 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 a major refurbishment, the Toshiba Gallery re-opened 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 both modern and contemporary objects. Of the 550 objects featured in the new displays, 400 have not been exhibited in the gallery before, and over 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.

  • 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 highlighted the V&A’s enamels collection and included the superb collection of objects donated to the V&A by Edwin Davies CBE. 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. and to the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. The tour finished at the Brading Roman Villa in the Isle of Wight in September 2015. In total, the exhibition was seen by over 170,000 visitors.
  • Yohji Yamamoto (12 March – 10 July 2011): This exhibition focused on one of the world’s most influential fashion designers.

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.

Following the success of this project, the V&A will again work with the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum to show the Julia Margaret Cameron photography exhibition from July to September 2016.

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

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Art Deco (2005): The tour included the Metropolitan Museum, Tokyo, Fukuoka Kyushu Municipal Museum, and Osaka Suntory Museum, attracting over 80,000 visitors.
  • Vivienne Westwood (November 2005 – January 2006): The exhibition was presented at the Mori Arts Centre Gallery in Tokyo, attracting over 94,500 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, attracting over 63,750 visitors.
  • 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.
  • 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, attracting over 97,800 visitors.
  • Art Nouveau (2001-2002): It was shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Tokyo, attracting 310,000 visitors.
  • 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, attracting 46,000 visitors.
  • Aubrey Beardsley (1998-1999): It toured the Koriyama City Museum of Art, Kintetsu Museum of Art, Sogo Museum of Art, and Odakyu Museum, attracting 60,000 visitors.
  • 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.


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 lent 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 lent 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 contributed 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.

In 2015, the Museum lent 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.

Opening at the Utsunomiya Museum of Art, Tochigi Prefecture on 6 December 2015, 46 objects have been lent to the touring exhibition Aubrey Beardsley and Japan. A further three venues in Japan sees the tour continue until 28 August 2016.

Notable loans to the V&A from Japanese lenders 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.


For adult

  • 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) and with the Toshiba International Foundation (TIFO).
  • 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.

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.
  • A special V&A Sanctuary workshop for teachers was run in January 2016 to celebrate the re-opening of the Toshiba Gallery. The V&A Sanctuary programme involves evening sessions that allow professionals the chance to relax as well as get hands on with a range of artists and designers.

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 Alexander McQueen, invited Japanese fashion journalists to the opening events for Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty and coverage generated for the exhibition included Vogue Japan. There is also a film focusing on the Japan collection and re-opening of the Toshiba Gallery of Art and Design for the new dedicated V&A channel on British Airways in-flight entertainment system. This went ‘live’ in early 2016. 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 generous support has enabled the V&A to upgrade and redisplay the Toshiba Gallery and to publish a new introduction to Japanese art and design; both ventures were completed in 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.


Toshiba International Foundation-funded Conservation of a Palanquin

The Toshiba International Foundation (TIFO) continue to help with funding conservation projects and are currently supporting the work being carried out on an important 18th century palanquin (norimono) for a woman which was probably used as part of the wedding ceremonies between two important Japanese families. The conservation of the lacquered surfaces on this palanquin is nearing its conclusion. Work on the main body has involved a painstaking and complex process stabilising the previously lifting, flaking and distorted lacquer, using a variety of methods, and also cleaning the sensitive surface to remove layers of dust and dirt. The next part of the project involves treating the textile and paper component on the inside of the sliding doors, and then the iki-ningyo doll that sits inside the palanquin (made of wood with hair and dressed in a kimono), will be conserved. The various stages in the conservation journey are being filmed and will be available as an on-line video later.

V&A YouTube Channel

The first of a series of Conservation films – ‘Object Restoration – Figure of a Samurai in Full Armour’ – can now be accessed at the V&A’s YouTube channel at:

‘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 between Britain, Japan, China, and Korea from 1860 to the present. 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 visit to the Clothworkers’ Centre for the Study and Conservation of Textiles and Fashion at Blythe House. Further workshops were held at the University of Northumbria, Newcastle (July 2014) and Bunka Gakuen University, Tokyo (February 2015). For future details, please visit the website.

The Mazarin Chest Project

This 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. The Mazarin Chest is now on display in the refurbished Toshiba Gallery.


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.

A private view was held at the V&A on 3 November 2015 to celebrate the re-opening of the Toshiba Gallery. The event was attended by approximately 279 guests including His Excellency Keiichi Hayashi (Japanese Ambassador), Koshi Noguchi (Vice President of EU-Japan Relations) and Mr Hidehito Murato (Corporate Vice President, Corporate Representative – EMEA) who spoke during the event.


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.


  • Gregory Irvine, ed., Japanese Art and Design: The Collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum (London: V&A Publishing, 2015)
  • Amy de la Haye and Emily Sutton, Japanese translation by Yuko Takao, Clara Button and the Magical Hat Day (London: V&A Publishing; Tokuma Shoten Publishing Co., 2015)
  • Julia Hutt and Edmund De Waal, Japanese Netsuke(London: V&A, reprinted 2012 with a new foreword following the original in 2003)
  • 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)
  • 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)
Back to the top