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Subtopic : Starting a Second Century: The Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition, 1905: Asia at the Fair

Themes: Arts, Economics

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“Fair Japan”
Lewis & Clark Exposition, 1905
OrHi 36789

Exposition visitors could walk through the 50,000 square feet of the Oriental Exhibits Building—the second most costly at the fair—to view the products of China, Turkey, Egypt, India, Ceylon, Siam, and Korea. Most of the Asian exhibits were actually put together by trading companies and importers who wanted to show off their carpets, textiles, and housewares to potential customers. China’s Shantung province did send an official exhibit to balance the low quality of some of the other Chinese products. But by far the largest Asian presence came from Japan. As a guide to the exhibits stated:

It is Japan which makes the Oriental part of the Fair really notable. She occupies more than half the space in the Oriental Building. It is understood that the Emperor, not quite satisfied with the excellent showing made last year at St. Louis, gave his commissioners instructions to outdo what was done at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition [in St. Louis].

In fact, the Fair displayed the old image of quaint Japan represented by the traditional handiwork and household items with which many Americans were decorating their homes: bronze lanterns, porcelain, silk embroidery and hangings, dolls, metalware, cloisonne vases and boxes, carved ivory, lacquer work.

In sober fact, Japan in 1905 was far more than a producer of knickknacks. It had just defeated Russia in a war for the control of Manchuria in northern China, annihilating a Russian fleet and defeating Russian land armies in campaigns that anticipated World War I. Although it was fast becoming an industrial powerhouse and the major power in eastern Asia, Americans were slow to adjust their image of a Pacific rival. American opinion had favored the “plucky little Japs”—to quote one newspaper cartoon—in battling the barbaric Russian bear. The Feast of Lanterns, celebrated at the Exposition on August 31, included floats depicting the end of the Russo-Japanese War and the imperial throne. It was a reminder of the “great, progressive and enlightened Japan of today,” said the Oregonian.

© Carl Abbott, 2004

Themes: Arts,Economics

Regions: Portland Metropolitan Area

Date: 1905

Author: Carl Abbott

Japan’s presence at the Lewis & Clark Exposition proved to be the largest from among the Asian nations that participated.

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