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As anniversary years go, 2018 is a big year for Japan. It seems to be passing by without much fanfare though; there’s too much water under the bridge for all-out celebration. The beginning of the industrialized Japanese nation-state with the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912) entailed civil war and a drastic shock to the collective national identity, after all.

Despite the fact that the term sakoku (policy of national isolation) has been widely questioned as a useful historical description of Japan’s international relations between 1633-1853, it’s still received wisdom that Japan had negligible contact with the outside world for 200 years of its history. An exhibition at Intermediatheque — the brilliantly quirky museum jointly operated by the University of Tokyo and Japan Post Co. — shows that while it may have been controlled, the contact that did occur is of historical importance.

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