The Victoria and Albert museum accommodates thousands of artefacts over five main categories: Asia, Europe, Materials & Techniques, Modern and Exhibitions. The “Japan” collection is on the ground floor and sits amongst other Asian . In this collection, the artefacts are further separated into subcategories, ranging from “theatre” to “tea drinking” to “modern and contemporary”. The gallery is conveniently sponsored by Toshiba, a Japanese multimillion corporation, and claims that the collections aim is to “strengthen ties between Britain and Japan”. Even with the tension between Japan and Britain from WW2, ties between the two countries are apparently considered to be strong, and in 2011 British foreign Secretary William Hague said that Japan was “one of the closet partners in Asia”.
There are many aspects of this gallery that are reminiscent of traditional Japanese interior architecture. The wooden panels and open wide spaces in the dimly lit gallery. The ranma that hangs above the gallery makes you feel like you are being transported to Japan. Apart from the fact that Japanese architecture is no longer like this. These replications of Japanese interiors are similar to the chinoiserie look that we see in Chinatowns today. Chinatowns are decorated with the lavish pagodas and dragons gates because the architect relied on old photos of what China used to look like. But soon the leaders of the community realised that this would bring tourism and money.
Tourists loved the new Chinatown. This was exactly the westerner-friendly version of China they wanted: vaguely exotic, but safe enough for middle-class white America. The visitors began to flow into Chinatown, and so did their cash.
This gallery as a whole reminds me of the techniques they used in Chinatown to attract westerners. The gallery visitor is merely spectating the artefacts and fascinated by the exotic objects in front of them. Just like way tourists were obsessed with the “oriental” aesthetic of Chinatown. The question arises for who this gallery is made for, Japanese people or westerners?
This CD player sits in the “Modern and Contemporary” section of the gallery. It was designed by Naoto Fukasawa for Muji in 1999, it is wall mounted and simple in design and use. The CD was mass produced and sold in countries both in the west and east. Globalisation has caused Japanese designers to work with western manufactures, this CD player is the results of that. It shows us that the east and west can work harmoniously and together, they can create innovative and beautiful design. Or at least that’s what they’re trying to tell us.
The first problem is that there are too many undertones of political influence. The gallery really wants you to know that Japanese-British ties are as strong as ever, and what better way to remind everyone than showing all the times that the west had influenced Japan. The second problem is that museum-going has become a spectator sport for those who are wanted to be enlightened by exotic cultures, and therefore has cover-compensated in displaying their open-mindedness to different societies and cultures. The institution has become less about education and learning but become more of a place of spectating.