Japan and the U.S. on the World’s Stage:
The Columbian Exposition of 1893
What did the U.S. and Japan aim to gain from the Columbian Exposition of 1893? Howard J. Romanek spoke about “Emergence of Japan and the U.S. on the World’s Stage: The Columbian Exposition of 1893” on July 10 at Holiday Inn Express in Arlington Heights. Romanek is a Board member of the Japan America Society of Chicago and a member of the Program and Education Committees. He is a retired professor of the Illinois State University and currently teaches at the University of New Mexico on a part-time base.
When changes occur in a civilization, society, or country, a driving power emerges and brings people together to move toward a certain direction. Romanek referred to this power as “glue.” For instance, China’s glue was Confucianism in the past, and it may be nationalism now.
England impacted the world by its Crystal
Palace in the Exposition of 1851. At the same time, the country solidified
its segmented society.
What did the U.S. want to present with
the Exposition of 1893? While celebrating Columbus’s discovery of the
New World, the U.S. also wished to show the greatness of America and proclaim
its place as a world leader. The message was “passing the world’s leadership
from the old world to the new world.” At the same time, the U.S. wanted
to promote patriotism because tensions and conflicts among immigrants
were accumulating in the nation.
Japan was the first foreign country
to respond to Chicago’s invitation to the Columbian Exposition. The samurai
rule ended and the Meiji Restoration occurred just 25 years before the
Exposition, so Japan wanted to dispel its savage images and show the world
that Japan had learned from western countries and become equally modernized
country with them. Japan also wanted to modify unfair treaties with western
countries by demonstrating its westernization and modernization. Japan
also wanted to take leadership in Asia.
The Columbian Exposition officially
opened May 1, 1893, and 27.5 million people visited it during six months.
Admissions were 50 cents for adults, 25 cents for children, and free for
children under age six. Romanek estimated that a dollar at the time would
be valued $24 to $25 today.
The white-clad buildings were beautifully built. They were brightly lighted in the evening. One of the highlight was Japanese Ho-o-den in the Wooded Island. There was a Japanese boat with phoenix on the lagoon. There was also the Japanese Tea Garden with toro lanterns.
Everything was beautiful in the Columbian Exposition, but it had ugly exhibits such as that of Dahomey, which had a custom of cannibals. The African country was invited to show the visitors the contrast between civilization and non-civilization. It also showed African Americans the advantage they were given in the U.S.
After the Exposition was closed, the
Japanese Phoenix pavilion (Ho-o-den) and the Japanese garden were gifted
to the City of Chicago as a symbol of friendship between the two nations.
Ho-o-den in the Wooded Island was saved from the fire, but it was destroyed by an arson fire in 1946, and only four ranma (curved wood panels) survived. They were restored by Janice Katz of the Art Institute of Chicago and are displayed in the Japan Gallery of the Art Institute.
Did Japan achieve its objectives in the Columbian Exposition?
(The full story is available in the Chicago Shimpo’s 2014, July 27th issue.
professor Howard J. Romanek
A ticket of the Columbian Exposition dated October 9, 1893. A collection of Professor Romanek
|Ho-o-den in the Wooded Island|
Interior of Ho-o-den