The Japanese artifacts of the British royals are to be exhibited at Buckingham Palace | Art and design

Japanese treasures acquired by the royal family through nearly four centuries are to be exhibited to the public for the first time next year in an exhibition at Buckingham Palace.

The artifacts included rare examples of “unsurpassed Japanese craftsmanship”, including armor, weapons, porcelain, lacquer, woodcuts, delicate fans and embroidered displays, the Royal Collection Trust said.

Taken together, the artifacts form “one of the finest holdings of Japanese artwork in the Western world,” charting the relationship between the British and Japanese royal and imperial families from the time of James I.

The oldest is a samurai armor, sent to the king by Shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu, the military leader who ruled Japan on behalf of the imperial family. The first contact between England and Japan had been made by John Saris, the captain of a ship that reached Japan in 1613 with letters and gifts from James I. Saris returned with the gift and a letter allowing the English to live and trade in Japan.

But the alliance was short-lived: For 220 years from 1630, Japan closed its doors to the west. The royal family continued to collect Japanese lacquer, porcelain and textiles, which found their way to Europe via the Netherlands, the only country allowed to trade with the East Asian country.

A samurai armor, sent to James I by Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada in 1613.
A samurai armor, sent to James I by Shogun Tokugawa Hidetada in 1613. Photo: Royal Collection Trust / PA

After Japan reopened to the west in 1850, visiting members of the royal family were received in the Imperial Palace and brought gifts home. In 1910, more than 8 million people visited the Japanese-British exhibition in London.

The Shōwa emperor, also known as Hirohito, sent Queen Elizabeth a gift for her coronation in 1953 of a cosmetic box decorated with a heron by the great lacquer artist Shirayama Shōsai.

The works on display at next year’s exhibition had been “loved by members of the British royal family for centuries”, said its curator, Rachel Peat.

It was a rare opportunity “to see first-hand the precious materials and intricate techniques that have so deeply shaped British taste and that helped create a lasting relationship between the two nations,” she added.

Japan: Courts and Culture opens Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, April 8, 2022 to March 12, 2023.

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