Dicky Bowen 'resting' in the Budokwai dojo, c1954 Dicky Bowen 'resting' in the Budokwai dojo, c1954

Between May and October 1910 eight million people visited the Japan-British Exhibition in London. Designed to correct common misconceptions about Japan and foster a better understanding of all aspects of Japanese culture, the scale of the exhibition was huge. Spread over 140 acres in White City it included three reconstructed Japanese villages, 12 ‘historical tableaux’ and two full-size gardens. Visitors viewed displays of Japanese manufactured goods and traditional crafts, and were entertained by acrobats, dancers and jūjutsu wrestlers.

Judo was devised by Jigorō Kanō (1860-1938) in the 1880s derived from more ancient forms of the Japanese martial arts known as jūjutsu. He described judo as ‘not a mere sport or game. I regard it as a principle of life, art and science. In fact, it is a means for personal cultural attainment.’ Today judo is widely practiced throughout Japan and the Kōdōkan, the school founded by Kanō in Tokyo, continues as a focus and inspiration for jūdoka around the world.

This small online exhibition explores the beginnings of judo in the UK, its origins and development, and how, over time, it has played a part in shaping our ideas about Japan. It features items from the judo collection assembled by Richard ‘Dicky’ Bowen (1926-2005) who trained at the Kōdōkan and represented Great Britain at the first World Judo Championships in 1956, and originally accompanied an exhibition hosted by the Museum of East Asian Art between July 2021 and May 2022.

With special thanks to Dr Mike Callan, Dr Amanda Callan-Spenn and Mrs Marion Woodard.

The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation The Museum of East Asian Art British Society of Sports History The Budokwai The Library, University of Bath