Träsnitt med två gubbar. Fotografi.

Japan – tales of objects and images

Meet the multifaceted Japan in an exhibition that spans over 1,400 years, from the Kofun period to the 20th century, highlighting objects from urban environments during the Edo period.

The Japan exhibition showcases the different groups of society, such as samurai, merchants and artisans, presented through over 400 objects mainly from the Edo period (1615–1868).

Much of what today is perceived as "typically Japanese" in and outside of Japan was shaped during the Edo period. Through arts and crafts, we see glimpses of entertainment, religious performances, tea ceremonies and Japan's contacts with the outside world.


For almost 700 years, Japan was ruled by the samurai. The samurai, as the only social class, had the right to carry two swords – a long one, katana, and a short one, wakizashi. This was part of the strategy in creating a monopoly of violence for the ruling samurai.

The National Museums of World Culture’s collection contains roughly 4,100 objects from Japan, where 1,100 objects are weapon related. The collections include 800 Japanese sword mountings tsuba all with unique motifs that could be purely decorative but usually had a protective and magical, incantatory power for the wearer. The exhibition also showcases a complete samurai armor and plenty of their legendary swords.



During the years between 1639 to the 1850s, Japan isolated itself from the outside world, an expression of government monopoly on foreign trade. However, the view of Japan as a completely closed country has been revised by more recent research.

The main point of contact between Westerners and Japanese before 1868 was the small artificial island of Dejima off Nagasaki, where the Dutch East India Company had its branch. In the exhibition there are several objects that show traces of contact with the outside world, including the netsuke (belt button) you see above which depicts a Western man in clothes typical of the 18th century.