1938: Information map for World Antique exhibition and on-site sale by Yamanaka & Co

Commented by: Ji Young Park

Material description

This is a photograph of woodcut information map for the World Antique exhibition and on-site  sale (世界古美術即売会大展観) held by Yamanaka & Co. (山中商会)in Osaka, Japan in 1938 (40×58 cm). In the tradition of Edo woodblock printing, with the name of the illustrator and printer, this guide map borrows from a E-Sugoroku (絵双六, Japanese version of Snakes and Ladders game) format, quite often used in making Japanese department stores’ flyer at the same period of time.

Short Summary

From early- to mid-20th century, Yamanaka & Company, one of the baggiest Japanese art dealerships before World War II, organized more than 150 sale exhibitions in Japan and other countries. It was through this company, that many art objects were obtained from China and Korea, at a time when these countries were struggling to establish their sovereignty over their territories. They were then sold and donated in Japan and other countries. This exhibition guide with illustrations and captions shows the large numbers and the variety of art objects on sale.


Yamanaka & Co was founded by Yamanaka Sadajirō (山中定次郎, 1866 – 1936). He developed his father-in-law’s small antique shop in Osaka and opened branches in New York (1895), Boston (1899), London (1900), Paris (1905) and Chicago (1928). With its expertise and Japanese political and military influence in East Asian region, Yamanaka & Co played a significant role in the displacement of East Asian artefacts, most notably Chinese antiques, not only to Japan but also to American and European countries.

In 1938 (昭和 13年), Yamanaka & Co held an “World Antique exhibition and on-site sale” in Matsuzakaya department store in Osaka (松坂屋大阪店), now Takashimaya department store’s East Annex building (高島屋東別館). Since it was during the Second Sino-Japanese war (1937-1945) and just a few years before the Pacific War (1941-1945), this exhibition was one of the last climactic moments of this type of business as Asian art dealer.

Printed in color from wood-blocks, this image is an information guide for this sale exhibition. It includes information about the date, the venue, the types of objects on view, the places of production and numbers. On the sixth floor there are the Japanese craftworks (ceramics, wood block printings, sedge utensils…) and antiques (old books, calligraphies, paintings…) were mainly displayed and on the seventh floor we find ceramics, stone works, Buddhist statues and others antiques from China and Korea as well as Japan.

Different stagings of the objects and display booths like old Japanese shopping streets are an interesting visual point in this guide. Using Tokonoma (decorative alcove for the Japanese traditional elite house) for display in artwork sale exhibition in Japanese department store was fashionable at that time and building a traditional architectural structure related to the displayed objects was associated with the World Fairs’ display conventions. However, it’s not sure that this drawing reflected either the actual exhibition plan or the ideal display for the East Asian artefacts for the E-Sugoroku genre.

With this visual guide for sale exhibition, the dynamism of the displacement of cultural asset under colonial regime can be explored. After the Japanese Ancient Temples and Shrines Preservation Law (古社寺保存法) in 1897, Yamanaka & Co tried to find their new sources in Korea and China by taking advantage of their unstable political situation. In China, even though the Qing Dynasty issued a Protection of Ancient Sites (保存古跡推廣辦法章程) in 1909, between Qing’s fall in 1911 and in 1930 when the Law on the Preservation of Ancient Objects (古物保存法)’ was issued by the Chinese Nationalist government, the traffic of the Chinese antiques was barely controlled by the Chinese government. Yamanaka opened its office in Beijing in 1917 and directly sold the Chinese antiques to collectors outside China.

As for the Korean case, despite the laws for the protection of ancient site and antiques (蹟及遺物保存規則) issued by the Japanese colonial government in 1916, the outflow of cultural asset to outside Korean peninsula continued. This guide tells that 50 stoneworks from Korea were put on sale. Japanese art amateurs’ taste for decorating their garden with stoneworks fuelled the stonework market and Japanese academics, such as Sekino Tadashi (関野 貞), who studied cultural property in Korea, collaborated with the Japanese art dealers. Also, taking out and transfering stonework, located originally in Buddhist temples or Korean Royal and aristocrat family’s tombs would have been impossible without the implication of the Japanese colonial government officers and the cooperation of Japanese military infrastructure.

Related images

In 1942, a few months after the Pearl Harbor Attack, the Office of Alien Property Custodian (OAPC) of the United States of America confiscated up to 57,000 works of art of Yamanaka & Co in US territory, considered enemies of the state. These works were sold under the OAPC for auction at great discount to American Museums and private collectors in 1943. With this sale, the US government earned 390,000 USD and the auction agent, Parke-Bernet Galleries earned 77,000 USD. As a result, many East Asian antiques were dispersed onto the Western countries.


Thomas Lawton, “Yamanaka Sadajirô: Advocate for Asian Art”, Orientations, 1995, pp. 85-86.

Younjung Oh, “Shopping for Art: The New Middle Class’ Art Consumption in Modern Japanese Department Stores”, Journal of Design History, 2014, pp. 351–369.

Honggyu Ju, “Yamanaka & Co and the Korean cultural assets taken to Japan”, Theses of Korean Studies, 2017, pp. 403-433. (in Korean)

Tokyo Art Club, 100 years of Art dealer, 2006. (in Japanese)

Shinich Arai, Colonialism and the cultural assets, 2017. (in Japanese)

Image source


Cite this article as:
Information map for World Antique exhibition and on-site sale by Yamanaka & Co (1938), commented by 
Ji Young Park, in: Translocations. Ikonographie: A collection of commented image sources on cultural heritage relocations since antiquity, http://transliconog.hypotheses.org/kommentierte-bilder-2/information-map-for-world-antique-exhibition-and-on-site-sale-by-yamanaka-co-1938, published 16/05/2018.
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