The Mitsubishi Japanese Galleries at the British Museum reopened on 27 September. They are situated in what was described as a ‘loft conversion’, albeit a rather upmarket one, and they have been closed for nine months being refurbished. Both the floor and ceiling have been replaced with pine and cherry wood respectively and much attention was paid to the acoustics so as to lessen the resonance effect which works well.
The lighting has also been improved (apparently), although I didn’t think it was that good. Museums are a bit overcautious about light levels and the type of lights used as it is only part of the visible spectrum emitting from a light that can cause damage, and that can be filtered out. I suspect there are proper museum grade lamps that already do this.
Fortunately, the displays themselves are great and ranged from an exhibit by Miyajima Matsuo’s Time Waterfall, a cascade of numbers in LED lights, round through the centuries ending up with a traditional teahouse for the tea ceremony which is a permanent feature.
The display of Bunraku puppets I enjoyed, they are operated by three people. it made me wonder if Jim Henson used knowledge of this when he created Kermit and the other characters in ‘The ‘Muppet Show’, which I worked on, and performed in, 40 years ago at ATV Elstree. Just conjecture, but as some Muppets were operated by three people, I would be surprised if he hadn’t. Jim was a clever and dedicated man.
I was fortunate enough to meet a Living National Treasure, Murose Kazumi born in 1950, who is a master craftsman in lacquer.
His work on display is a large, round lacquer box showing a central chrysanthemum on the lid, the emblem of the Emperor in Japan. It took three years to make; two years for the core, and one year to make the decoration. He also restores antique artefacts together with his son who also works with his him in their Tokyo workshop.
He was interviewed by a young reporter and camerawoman working for a major TV company in Japan, TV Asahi. With my years as a television cameraman and lighting director, I was dismayed that there was no on-camera light to lift the harsh shadows; the pictures could not look good. With the low budgets that TV companies have, nothing much would be done in post-production. Many UK television companies can be similar, slapdash work being acceptable, a main reason I quit the business in 1992.
Anyone interested in Japanese culture and history should go and see this exhibition as it is a very good display of just some of the things within the British Museum collection.
All museums and galleries have a large percentage of their exhibits stashed away somewhere because they don’t have space to show everything. But the choice that is on display echoes Japan through the centuries very well indeed.
“Keep changing, Connect with everything, Continue forever” is in the Mitsubishi Japanese Galleries at the British Museum.
(c) All images and text – Jeremy Hoare
1 October 2018