Osaka 1903 Exhibition

Fifth National Exhibition

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Quick List Info

Osaka 1903 Guidebook Cover

Dates Open - March 1 to July 31, 1903. Formal opening by Emperor on April 20. Open 153 days.

Attendance - 4,350,693 visitors, including 959,516 to the aquarium.

International Participants - Although technically a Japanese National Exhibition, the Japanese government invited a number of foreign nations to participate in a Foreign Samples Building. 16 nations and colonies participated; some participated officially, others represented by foreign firms.

Total Cost - 1.1 million yen ($550,000) with 700,000 yen of that total used for construction of the buildings. Prefecture budgets were estimated at 20,000 yen apiece for the 47 participant prefectures. The additional 940,000 Yen for those would increased the budget to over 2 million Yen.

Site Acreage - 93.5 acres.

Sanction and Type - Prior to the Bureau of International Expositions. Would be considered a Recognized Expo with Special qualities like on the 2-3, 7-8 years of each decade today, although its length suggests an expo on the 5 year of the decade.

Ticket Cost - Admission cost 5 sen (1/100th of a yen) plus 3 sen additional to the Aquarium.

Photo top center: Japanese Dancers, 1903, Official Guidebook Osaka 1903. Column Top: Front of the Official Guidebook, 1903. Column Bottom: Overview of the exhibition buildings and site, 1903, Official Guidebook.

Osaka 1903 Japanese National Exhibition Grounds

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History of the Event

Site Map Osaka 1903 Exhibition

Yes, as the title of the exhibition suggests, there had been four Japanese National Exhibitions before Osaka held its own in 1903, and added an element. At Tokyo in 1877, 1881, and 1890, and another in Kyoto in 1895, the exhibitions had been purely national. However, with Osaka in 1903, the Japanese commission began to see the possibilities of expanded foreign trade and thus wanted to test its toes in the waters of an international exposition without fully committing to it. They thought the next opportunity to hold a true international exposition would be soon (it was not) and that this time, at a national exhibiton, they'd invite a few nations to participate in a Foreign Samples Building, plus a separate pavilion for Canada when they requested too much space. So while that next exposition that was truly and spectacularly international would not take place until Osaka until 1970, and will again grace Osaka in 2025, Osaka 1903 was a de facto international exhibition. Just ask some of the nations who participated, and thought it important.

How important? They wrote books about it, and boasted about their participation, and promoted their next world exposition event, as Portland's Exposition of 1905 did by spending $4,500 to send Henry Dosch there with an exhibit so he could attract international exhibitors to Oregon two years hence. That didn't work out as planned, however, because Asian exhibitors were not treated right at the 1904 St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Moral. Treat people right or you might spend $4,500 in today's inflationary money for not much.

For the Netherlands, they were consummed with touting their influence and lands in India. Their book about participation in 1903 noted the good relations between Japan and the Dutch, which stemmed from their first trading mission to Japan in 1600 and its exclusive trade then. They were excited to exhibit in the first Japanese National that allowed foreign goods. The Netherlands in 1903 had colonial possession of what they called Netherlands-East India, which included Sumatra, the Archipelago of Bintang or Riouw, the Archipelago of Lingga, the Karimon, Tambelan, Anambas, and Natoena Islands, the Banka and Billiton Groups, Java and Madoera, parts of Borneo, and Celebes. Whew! We're talking nearly 35,000 geographic square miles and over 34 million native people. Yes, they were invested in those people, their coffee, sugar, tea, and more. This exhibition and its trade possibilities were thought to assist. The book is 212 pages long.

Above photo. Site Map of the Osaka 1903 Exhibition, 1903. Courtesy Below: Drawing of fairgoers and the Osaka fair, 1903. Courtesy Expositions, Where the Modern Technology of the Times was Exhibited Website.

Osaka 1903
Of course, the Fifth National Exhibition of Japan was still predominantly national, with exhibit halls such as the Industrial Building (largest at 4.16 acres), an Educational Building (.25 acres), the Hall of Agriculture, Forestry, and Marine Products (2.15 acres), a Transportation Building (.62 acres), and Machinery Building (.8 acres). Yes, it also had an Aquarium (permanent building on a separate site) and that large Foreign Samples Building (1.2 acres). There was also a Fine Arts Building, the only permanent structure on the main site, with paintings from Japanese artists, as well as a Taiwan Building. The forty-seven prefectures (provinces or states) of Japan all exhibited, spending 20,000 yen apiece on their exhibits.

There were a total of 153,799 exhibitors in a total of eighteen buildings. For those interested in fun, there was that aquarium, an amusement park, and other entertainments.

Was the exhibition a success? It seemed so, with economic benefits to the city. Although the New York Times did report that transportation to the site seemed difficult. The fact that it was the last large scale Japanese National Exhibition was more due to the fact of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, and different goals in international relations once the spate of World Wars started.

Historian's Perspective

Anders Lockyer - "Osaka 1903 incorporates entertainment, including colonial villages, all of which drew in the punters."

Fifth Japanese National

Foreign Samples Building, Osaka 1903 Exhibition

International Participants
Nations and Colonies


Germany, England, France, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Russia, Turkey, India, China, Korea, Australia, Canada, and United States. With limited space in the Foreign Samples Building, others had their own buildings, i.e. Canada, with more represented by foreign firms - i.e. Formosa (Taiwan).

Note: It is sometimes difficult to tell whether certain nations actually participated in a significant way. Newspaper reports as well as official publications may indicate participation when actual participation did not occur, occurred minimally, or miss unofficial participation at all. Take the above as a guide, not gospel.

Expo Tidbits
Osaka was the wealthiest city in Japan in 1903 with 881,344 residents in 1900. After the decade of the fair, it had grown to a population of 1,239,373, a 40% increase in ten years.

Part of the American exhibit was that of the State of Oregon by Henry E. Dosch, representating the upcoming Portland Expo of 1905. The Singer Sewing Machine Co. also exhibited.

Emperor and Empress made special visit to Osaka for two weeks from April 23 to May 6 and visited the Foreign Samples Building.

Exhibition was open at night with grand illuminations, and the Obayashi Tower, fitted with an elevator, drew large crowds.

Osaka 1903

Site of the Fifth National Exhibition in Osaka is now the location of the Tennoji Zoo.

Those in Charge
Main architect for the site and buildings was Obayashi Yoshiboro. The exhibition was organized by a Japanese Imperial Commission and backed by the Japanese Government.

Sources: London Times; New York Times; Fair News, article by Mike Gregory; The Book of the Fairs; Expositions, Where the Modern Technology of the Times was Exhibited Website; Osaka and the exhibition, 1903, compiled by T.M. with English text edited by J.K. Goodrich; Report of the Minister of Agriculture of Canada for the Year 2003; Netherlands-India at the Fifth National Industrial Exhibition of Japan, Osaka 1903;

Photo column top: Foreign Samples Building at Osaka 1903 Exhibition, 1903. Courtesy Middle: Drawing of the entrance gate at the Fifth Japanese National Exhibition, 1903. Courtesy Expositions, Where the Modern Technology of the Times was Exhibited. Bottom: Savannah zone in the Tennoji Zoo, Osaka. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Osaka 1903

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