Martial Arts Displays at the Japan-British Exhibition of 1910

  • Originally published on the site on Saturday, 28th January 2017
Above: thrown from the dohyō (wrestling platform), a sumo wrestler startles spectators during the 1910 Japan-British Exhibition.

Although jiujitsu had been introduced to England circa 1900 via the efforts of E.W. Barton-Wright, Yukio Tani and Sadakazu Uyenishi, the Japan-British Exhibition was the first opportunity for many British citizens to witness other forms of Japanese antagonistics.  Sumo, kendo and naginata-jutsu were all on display at this event, which ran from May to October of 1910.

The Exhibition was staged at the famous White City, a fantastically elaborate complex that had been constructed to host the Franco-British Exhibition and the London Olympic Games in 1908.  The latter event, incidentally, had been presided over by William Grenfell, the 1st  Baron Desborough, who had also served as the president of the Bartitsu Club.

The organisers had spared no expense in creating a simulacrum of a Japanese town and formal gardens, and also a facsimile of an Ainu village. In addition, the Exhibition featured several Japanese-themed funfair attractions, such as a “scenic railway” that trundled through a landscape of miniature mountains and the “Wiggle-Woggle”, which sent riders caroming down a zig-zag track. All the construction work was carried out co-operatively by British and Japanese architects and artisans.

Many of the martial arts displays took place in the Jiujitsu Hall; the Japanese Town area also included a full sumo wrestling arena.

An exhibition of fencing with the naginata, a halberd-like weapon.
Above: three images of kendo displays taking place in the Jiujitsu Hall. Unlike practitioners of the modern sport, some early 20th century kendoka incorporated grappling techniques.
A jiujitsu exhibition.
Sumotori (wrestlers) pose in a variety of ceremonial and practical garb.
Above: British sketch artists’ impressions of sumo wrestling and wrestlers.
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