Year of Japan at Chiddingstone Castle 2020

Visitors to Chiddingstone Castle in Kent will experience the rare and important Japanese collection and explore the culture of Japan throughout 2020.

The Castle will host a series of cultural events, activities, and themed days for all ages. These will include a Zen retreat day, talks and Japanese artefact handling sessions, music and theatre performances, ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) demonstrations, traditional crafts, and much more in celebration of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics 2020.

The Japanese collection was created by Denys Eyre Bower, the last private owner of the Castle. It includes samurai swords and armour, lacquerware, and ancient tomb figures. Denys lived at the Castle from 1955 to 1977 and it was his wish that the collection be kept intact in its setting for future generations to enjoy. It was Denys’ dream to be able to visit Japan, and he was only able to afford to do so once towards the end of his life.

Denys had an eye for finding high quality objects that other people had overlooked. In particular he collected Japanese objects at a time when they were not very popular on the art market. In the late 19th century Japanese objects and artworks became very popular in Europe, but by the mid-20th century they had fallen out of fashion. After the First World War the contents of many country estates were sold and Denys was able to buy Japanese antiques for low prices.

A highlight of the Japanese Room displays will be the ‘Chiddingstone Casket’, a mid 17th century lacquer box made for export to the West and decorated in the highest quality and most expensive lacquer techniques. It belonged to the celebrated collection of William Beckford at Fonthill Abbey. It was made in the shape of an Italian pavilion and decorated in lacquer, gold, and inlaid shell.

‘Our Year of Japan will give visitors the opportunity to learn more about Japanese art and culture at Chiddingstone Castle through Denys’ collection and Japan-themed events and activities for all ages,’ said the Castle’s curator Naomi Collick.

Events for 2020 as follows:

Awaken Your Zen Retreat Day – Saturday 1 February

A wellbeing retreat in the beautiful historic setting of the Castle and grounds, inspired by Japanese Zen practices and mindful activities such as ‘forest bathing’ and toyohari acupuncture.

The day will begin with an introduction to Zen, a type of Japanese Buddhism which focuses on meditation and mindful living. Visitors will then experience a forest bathing walk in the grounds, a wild yoga session in the Victorian Orangery, a talk and demonstration on toyohari, and food and drink wellness advice throughout the day.

9.45 – 17.00: Tickets are £75 per person, more information is available on our website.

Japanese After-School Clubs – February and March

Two rounds of after school clubs for children (recommended age 8 to 11) as an introduction to Japanese language and traditional arts and crafts. The after school clubs are kindly supported with a grant from the Japan Foundation, and are therefore free of charge. The clubs involve an introduction to the Japanese language, trying out the art of ‘origami’ or paper folding, and painting Japanese characters in a traditional calligraphy lesson. Spaces are limited to 15 children per class, so reservation will be necessary. The classes in March will be a repeat of the classes in February. They will be 16.00 to 17.30 on the following dates:

February After School Club:

Beginner Japanese – 10 February:

Introduction to Origami (the Japanese art of paper folding) – 11 February

Japanese Calligraphy – 12 February

March After School Club:

Introduction to Origami – 2 March

Japanese Calligraphy – 3 March

Beginner Japanese – 4 March

Reservations for the classes can be made by e-mailing or by calling 01892 870347

The classes will be run by Fiona Glossop, head of learning at the Castle, and Naomi Collick, the Castle’s curator who has lived in Japan for six years and formally studied calligraphy there.

New displays in the Japanese Room include a new lacquerware display with the Chiddingstone Casket which has been in storage for the last two years, new information panels, and a new display in the ‘cabinet of curiosities’ style in which Denys Eyre Bower used to arrange his objects.

Ikebana Demonstration – Sunday 5 April

Demonstration of the art of traditional Japanese flower arranging or ikebana by practitioner Aki Murayama Leggett, who is qualified as a master with the Ohara School of Ikebana. Drop-in demonstration 14.00 to 16.00, with flower arrangements on display until the end of the day.

Japanese Room Tours – 8 and 26 of April

A drop-in introduction to Japanese art and the Castle’s collection in the Japanese Room

Wednesday 8 April, 11.30 and 14.30 – two 20 minute interactive family friendly talks on the Japanese collection for the Easter Holidays

Sunday 26 April, 13.00 and 15.00 – two 20 minute talks on the Japanese collection and the history of Japanese art

Bento lunchbox workshop, April, TBC

Bring your own lunchbox and learn how to make a healthy and beautiful traditional Japanese lunchbox or bento.

Children’s Day koinobori flag craft – Sunday 3 of May

Join in with a Japanese ‘Children’s Day’ holiday tradition – making colourful koi carp flags, or koinobori.

Koinobori flags are usually hung up outside homes and around towns and villages for Children’s Day. There are different sizes and colours of flag which represent mothers, fathers, and the number of children in a household. The koi carp is a symbol of strength, courage, and determination in Japan, because of a legend in which a koi carp who managed to swim up a waterfall turned into a dragon. They are hung up to blow in the wind as a wish for children to grow up healthy and strong. Koinobori means ‘climbing carp’.

Visitors of all ages can make their own koinobori flag in the Castle’s Activity Room to take home.

The craft workshop will run on a drop-in basis from 11.00 to 16.00 and is included in the price of normal Castle entry (£9.50 for adults, £4.50 for children).

Traditional Japanese music performances – Sunday 14 of June

Music performances in our Great Hall at 14.00, including traditional Japanese instruments – shakuhachi and shinobue. They are both types of flute made from bamboo. The shakuhachi historically was a musical instrument used by Zen Buddhist monks as part of a meditation practice called suizen or ‘blowing meditation’. The shinobue plays an important role in Noh and Kabuki theatre. Performers, including a professional flautist, will be wearing Japanese kimono.

Tanabata workshops – Tuesday 7 of July

Tanabata (the Festival of Stars) traditional workshops for schools. Pupils can listen to the tanabata story about two stars who are only able to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month. They can then participate in the tradition of making a wish slip and tying it to a specialtanabata tree branch.

The workshops will include learning some Japanese phrases.

Workshops last approximately an hour and a half for 30 pupils and need to be booked in advance as there is limited availability. They can be booked by contacting or calling 01892 870347

Object Handling Sessions – Sunday 12 July

Behind the scenes handling sessions of objects from the Japanese collection, with Naomi Collick and Julia Hutt, the former curator of Japanese lacquer at the V&A Museum.

Three approximately one hour sessions at 11.00, 13.00, and 15.00 with maximum 15 people per session, spaces need to be reserved in advance.

‘The Great Race’, a performance by A Thousand Cranes Japanese theatre company – Sunday 26 of July

Three family friendly 20 minute performances of traditional kamishibai storytelling by a member of the ‘A Thousand Cranes’ theatre company, as part of its ‘The Great Race’ tour for the Japan-UK Season of Culture. Fun and traditional Japanese storytelling performance with props. The story is based on the animals of the Zodiac and the Tokyo Olympics. Designed for children of four to seven years and their families.

Japan Festival – Sunday 16 August

The Japan Festival will be the main event day of the Castle’s Year of Japan. It will be a celebration of Japanese traditional arts and culture to mark the closing of the Tokyo Olympics the week before and the start of the upcoming Paralympics on the 25th of August. This day will be a revival of the Castle’s past Japan Days – the last one was in 2015.

The day will be packed with activities and performances including traditional dance, taiko drumming, martial arts, archery, Japanese sword techniques, an ikebana exhibition, calligraphy, and music. Visitors will be able to enjoy traditional Japanese performances and demonstrations and view the Castle’s fascinating and rare Japanese collection. A great day out for all the family, and fans of Japanese art, culture, and traditions.

Autumn Moon Harvest Festival – Monday 5 October

The Japanese equivalent of the harvest festival for schools. In Japan this festival is calledtsukimi, or ‘moon viewing’ and is a celebration of the full harvest moon. School groups can help with the Castle’s traditional tsukimi display with an autumn plant arrangement and round ‘moon shaped’ produce. They will listen to a moon themed Japanese fairytale and make a paper lantern.

For more information on visiting Chiddingstone Castle and the museum collections please visit or call 01892 870347.


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