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Japan’s seclusion came to an end in the 1850s, and the country returned to direct imperial rule in 1868. The new Emperor Meiji (1852–1912) encouraged rapid modernisation along western lines.

Members of the British and Japanese royal and imperial families soon made their first diplomatic visits. Among them was Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Alfred – the first foreign royal visitor to Japan. Imperial gifts of the highest quality – such as swords, textiles and screen paintings – entered the Royal Collection for the first time.

As artists began to travel between the two nations, Japanese craftspeople displayed metalwork and enamel at international exhibitions with considerable success. Works by them and by Imperial Household Artists were choice gifts for British jubilees and coronations.

The early nineteenth century witnessed the rise of the tableau vivant, a static performance inspired by art or literature that could be enacted in public theatres and private drawing-rooms alike. Around 1848, the genre was introduced to the royal family b
Royal Encounters

Members of the British Royal Family made their first visits to Japan in the 19th century

Folding Screen Paintings

A pair of folding screen paintings sent to Queen Victoria as a diplomatic gift

This unsigned armour is of the ‘body-wrapped’ (dōmaru) type introduced in the late Kamakura period (1185–1333). Thanks to its relative lightness, the style soon became popular with higher-ranking samurai. Warfare in Japan had changed ra
Arms and Armour

Impressive gifts evoking ancient samurai power and culture

Rectangular cabinet with shelves, with a low plinth raised on six shaped feet and with four corner uprights, having three full-length drawers below; on the right above, a recess with a pair of sliding doors, and to the left, a taller cupboard with two doo

Ornate cabinets from the late-nineteenth century

Master: Pair of bronze vases

Following a prohibition on carrying swords in the 1870s, metalworkers turned to decorative arts

The income from your ticket contributes directly to The Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity. The aims of The Royal Collection Trust are the care and conservation of the Royal Collection, and the promotion of access and enjoyment through exhibitions, publications, loans and educational activities.