Outline of Exhibition

Technology that made the era : Production revolution of the Middle Ages
Period Jul. 2 (Tue),2013 - Sep. 1 (Sun), 2013
Venue Special Exhibition Galleries, National Museum of Japanese History

Adults: ¥830 (¥560)
Senior high school & college students: ¥450 (¥250)
* Fees in parentheses apply to groups of 20 or more
* Admission to permanent exhibitions included
* Free admission for elementary & junior high school students
* Free admission for senior high school students every Saturday

Hours 9:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m. (entrance closed at 4:30 p.m.)

Jul 8 (Mon) , 16 (Tue), 22 (Mon) , 29 (Mon), Aug 5 (Mon), 19 (Mon), 26 (Mon)

Organizer National Museum of Japanese History
Co-hosted by Hiroshima Prefectural Museum of History


The Middle Ages were a period when technology made significant advance. The ancient technology, which produced artifacts used by the upper classes such as nobles, etc. in special places for rituals, etc., changed significantly to produce large quantities of implements used by common people in everyday life. Earthen ware, lacquer ware, ironware, etc. spread among general consumers, changing life in the Middle Ages. The medieval society revealed by archeological investigation results was a consuming society that was materially rich and backed by the production and distribution systems. The production technology that supported this society pursued efficient mass production.

Meanwhile, Japanese industrial arts were highly valued also abroad, and bronze mirrors, lacquer ware, etc. made in Japan were exported as brand products. Overseas technologies such as printing, guns, glass production, etc. brought from East Asia and the Nanban trade were assimilated in the traditional Japanese technological system, and the products of more advanced technologies such as higher-performance guns, etc. began to be developed. Such crystallization of the energy of the era fruited as a culmination of advanced technologies, and castles such as Fushimi Castle, Osaka Castle, etc. as monuments, and exquisite fine arts and crafts such as “Nanban lacquer ware,” etc. hailed as “Japan (lacquer ware)” in Europe were created one after another.

This special exhibition will focus on “medieval manufacturing,” i.e. the reality of such medieval technologies and craftsmen who supported them. The recent excavation results have revealed not only individual instruments and workshops but also the status of production in cities and distribution bases such as Kyoto, Kamakura, etc., and the places of production including a village of craftsmen like the Muramatsu-shirane site in Tokai, Ibaraki that was called a medieval industrial complex and in which people from different industries gathered. While incorporating the latest results, the exhibition will show an image of new medieval history of technology based on the studies from multiple viewpoints of philological history, archeology, folklore, art history, analytical chemistry, etc.

Exhibition Lineup

0. From the ancient period to the Middle Ages

1. Technologies that changed life

  • Life in the Middle Ages --- Life in Kusado Sengen
  • Various production activities --- Lacquer ware, wood products, ceramic ware, iron manufacture, smith forging, casting, horn implement, and stone ware

2. Figures of craftsmen

  • Craftsmen and gods
  • Work of craftsmen
  • Life --- Life of craftsmen

3. Production technologies and places

  • Temples and shrines, and craftsmen --- Kamakura
  • Industrial complex of the Middle Ages --- Kitazawa and Muramatsu-shirane sites

4. Cutting-edge technologies

  • Power and technology --- World of “Odawara artifacts”
  • Artistry of industrial arts --- Mirror, sword ornament, and sword
  • Fusion of foreign technologies --- Gun, glass, Christian artifact, Nanban lacquer ware, and printing

5. Building of monuments

  • Majestic tiles
  • Quarrying massive stones

【Main Artifacts】

* The exhibition materials will be changed during the period.
About 900 pieces such as artifacts related to life and production excavated from the Kusado Sengen-cho site <Important Cultural Properties> (Hiroshima Prefectural Museum of History), a collection of the Takamatsu House of the Imperial Family “Shokunin utaawase emaki” (Museum Collection), “Color painting on paper of shokunin zukushi-e” (Museum Collection), artifacts related to life and production excavated from the Ichijodani Asakura clan site <Important Cultural Properties> (Fukui Prefecture Board of Education), gilt bronze image of Aizenmyoo <Important Cultural Property> (Shyomyo-ji, Yokohama), bronze five-ringed tower in Kaisanto of Kakuon-ji <Important Cultural Property> (Kakuon-ji, Kamakura), gilt bronze ritual objects of esoteric Buddhism in Gokuraku-ji <Important Cultural Properties> (Gokuraku-ji, Kamakura), sword (no inscription, attributed to Kuniyuki) <Important Cultural Property> (Museum Collection), chest with maki-e of grass and flowers with mother-of-pearl inlay (Museum Collection), etc.

Cosmetic items
(Hiroshima Prefectural Museum of History)
Muromachi period: 14th century to 15th century
These items show the rich life of people in the Middle Ages.
Lacquer ware
(Kamakura City Board of Education)
Kamakura period to Muromachi period: 13th century to 14th century
These are cheap lacquer ware with their grounds coated with persimmon juice. Until the middle of the Heian period, lacquer was used for coating of the grounds for all lacquer ware, and only luxury products were made. However, in the Middle Ages, reasonably priced products like these began to be made and spread widely among common people.
Kiln instruments of Seto
(Investigation Center of the Buried Cultural Property of Aichi Prefecture)
Sengoku period: 16th century
Seto in the Sengoku period succeeded in the mass production of earthen ware with their entire surfaces glazed. That was supported by these kiln instruments devised newly from around the 15th century. Nobunaga also appreciated the earthen ware of Seto, and there remains a document to prove that he protected craftsmen in Seto.
Gold lion shape hilt ornament
(Fukui Prefecture Board of Education)
Sengoku period: 16th century
This is a sword ornament excavated from Ichijodani. The minute metal engraving shows the technical capabilities accumulated by warring lords.
Celadon jar with four handles, decorated with flower, clouds and dragon designs
(The Museum Yamato Bunkakan)
Muromachi period: 14th century
This was allegedly excavated from Odawara Castle. It was an antique even when it was collected by the Hojo clan. While collecting artifacts, warring lords began to acquire the technologies to produce them.
Lacquer ware bowl with Horai design
(Nanao City Board of Education)
Sengoku period: 16th century
This was excavated from the Shikke district of Nanao Castle, Ishikawa. It is a luxury lacquer ware with its ground coated with lacquer, and the design is very minute. Sophisticated industrial arts grew also in the castle town of the warring lord Noto Hatakeyama clan.
Short sword made by Tsunaie
(Castle tower of Odawara Castle)
Sengoku period: 16th century
The engraved inscription indicates that this was made by the Odawara blacksmith Tsunaie in 1538 (Tenbun 7). The warring lord Odawara Hojo gathered technicians in the castle. Blacksmiths were also given careful protection, and produced the famous Odawara brand sword “Odawara Soshu.” “Tsuna” of Tsunaie came from the name of Hojo Ujitsuna who was the second head of the clan.
Helmet with 32 stripes
(Muku Shrine, Chichibu)
Sengoku period: 16th century
This is a helmet that was allegedly dedicated by Hojo Ujikuni (younger brother of Ujimasa who was the third head of the clan). The engraved inscription indicates that this was made by a craftsman in Odawara. It is an existing excellent artifact of the Odawara brand “Odawarabachi” in the Sengoku period.
Mirror mold
(Kyoto City Archaeological Museum)
Kamakura period: 13th century
Kyoto in the Middle Ages produced bronze mirrors which were praised not only all over Japan but also abroad. The mold has remained miraculously.
Medailles and mold
(Fukuoka City Archaeology Center)
Sengoku period: 16th century
These are medailles (medals) worn around the neck by Christians. The copies were made also in Japan. It is known that they were produced with lead imported from Thailand.
Chest with maki-e of grass and flowers with mother-of-pearl inlay
(Museum Collection)
Sengoku period to Edo period: 16th century to 17th century
This is an example of the “Nanban lacquer ware” exported to the West. International elements such as Southeast Asian lacquer, Korean mother-of-pearl inlay technique, Chinese brass, and the Western-type key fused together in Japan. Lacquer ware was called “Japan” and praised in the West.
Gilded tile
(Kyoto City Archaeological Museum)
Sengoku period: 16th century
This is a gilded tile of Fushimi Castle. Both Nobunaga and Hideyoshi liked gilded tiles, but the methods and the technologies of gilding were different.
Restoration picture of beads shop in Ichijodani
(Drawn by Naoko Matsuda)
Sengoku period: 16th century
A town of craftsmen was excavated from the Ichijodani Asakura clan site. A beads shop was found there, with its detailed layout evident. The restoration picture was drawn based on the known layout.
Stick head [Important cultural property]
(Hiroshima Prefectural Museum of History)
Muromachi period: 14th century to 15th century
Kanetataki / Illustration
(Drawn by Naoko Matsuda)

A large number of horn implements were excavated from the Kusado Sengen-cho site. The stick head ornament made from a deer horn often appears in picture scrolls, etc. as “kasezue” held by kanetataki (mendicant priest with a bell).

Note: Please note that items in the exhibition are subject to change.