Vienna museum to restore daimyo mansion model from 19th century


A 19th-century scale model of a daimyo lord’s feudal mansion will be restored and turned into a major exhibit at Vienna’s Museum of Ethnology from around 2016.

The 1:18 scale wooden model will be the central display in a wing of the Hofburg Imperial Palace that houses the museum under the theme of “Japan coming to Austria.”

Standing on a 14-sq.-meter base, it was sent by the Japanese government during the Meiji Era for the fifth world exhibition, held in Vienna in 1873. It is not thought to have been modeled after any actual building.

The model, among the biggest of the 6,000 Japanese items exhibited at the fair, comprises a main house, a front gate, a noh stage and a fire watchtower.

Soon after the 1873 exhibition, the model, which had been divided into three parts, was gifted to the Forest Academy of Austria together with some of the other Japanese exhibits. It was later transferred to the Vienna Museum of Trade before ending up at the Museum of Ethnology in 1925.

It remained forgotten in storage until its discovery in 1995 by Bettina Zorn, head of the museum’s East Asian collection. “It is impressive because it is very big and very, very old. . . . If you look at such an impressive house, you ask yourself what happened inside it and what its function was,” Zorn said.

As the model is in poor condition, the restoration work is expected to take around three years to complete at a cost of more than ?100,000 (¥12.3 million).

The project is scheduled to begin this autumn and will be carried out by the museum’s experts in cooperation with Kyoto Institute of Technology.

However, differences remain about the best way to restore it. According to Zorn, the Kyoto institute wants to dismantle and rebuild the model with new materials and advanced technologies, while the museum hopes to preserve as much of the original as possible.