The Shogun show

10th June 2005 at 01:00
The world of 16th-century Japanese warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu comes to Leeds in a stunning new exhibition. Su Clark reports

Nothing will be lost in translation at the blockbuster exhibition coming to the Royal Armouries in Leeds this summer. More than 80 objects from the life of one of Japan's greatest heroes, Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu, are being brought to the museum in one of the most significant displays of Japanese heritage and culture to be seen within the United Kingdom.

Many of the objects, on loan from the Japanese World Heritage site, the Nikko Toshogu Shrine, are leaving Japan and the shrine for the first time.

These include large screens depicting Lord Tokugawa's life, his war standard made of a gilded paper fan that was carried into battle, costumes and armour, furniture, paintings, scrolls, art and, of course, weapons.

"Unfortunately, the war standard and some of the paintings will be on show for the first six weeks only, otherwise they start to deteriorate from too much exposure. They are more than 400 years old," says Ian Bottomley, senior curator of Oriental Arms and Armour at the museum.

In the land of his birth, Lord Tokugawa has been deified and is still worshipped today within the Shinto faith, yet few outside Japan would recognise his name. The exhibition, Shogun: The Life of Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu, could change that. Lord Tokugawa was born in 1542 during a turbulent period of Japanese history. For nearly 100 years it had been torn apart by civil war as hundreds of different factions vied for power. The emperor may have ruled the country from the imperial city of Kyoto, but the warlords controlled the land.

Then came Lord Tokugawa. Over 60 years, through bloody and ruthless war and clever diplomacy, he united the factions to become Shogun, military leader and the real power behind the throne. It was a position his family was to hold until the mid 19th century. It was Lord Tokugawa who created modern Japan and brought peace to the country for more than 200 years.

"Lord Tokugawa was a great statesman and patron of the arts," explains Ian Bottomley. "He was conscious of Japan's place in the world and was outward looking. He sent gifts through traders to the crowned heads of Europe, including King James I. His son and grandson weren't so open and Japan closed itself away from the rest of the world again until the Americans arrived and forced it open in 1853."

After he died, his son built the Nikko shrine in his honour, and the emperor declared him Tosho Daigongen, or "Great Incarnation illuminating the East". In 1636, his grandson rebuilt the shrine using the greatest artists of the time and four and a half million workers. The shrine is now a World Heritage site and is twinned with the Royal Armouries.

The exhibition hopes to open up the cultural and military history of the country, showing its battle tactics through to its religious beliefs. In addition to the exhibition, activities are to be held regularly, including a workshop on the kimono and the tradition of tea.

But it is the extensive art collection that the Royal Armouries has focused on as part of its facilities for schools, and it has produced a teacher's pack, designed for the key stage 3 national art, craft and design curriculum, that shows the legacy of Japanese art. Costing pound;15, the pack has six different activities through which pupils can learn about Japanese culture in an entertaining and interactive way.

Each activity has ready-prepared ideas and support material, designed to save teachers' time, and all ideas have been structured to meet Ofsted inspections, with outlined aims and objectives, assessment, resources, descriptions of each stage and relevant homework.


TES Teacher has teamed up with the Royal Armouries education team to offer a free activity from the exhibition pack. The chapter on mask making is available for readers to download free from the TES website at


Shogun: The Life of Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu runs until August 30. Schools admission price of pound;4.50 a head includes use of the dojo (japanese-themed classroom), teacher's pack and individual pupil packs.

Tel: 08700 344344 (information)


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