Teacup Travels – Inspiration for adventure

Museum object are like storybooks – filled with the tales of the people who made and used them, and of the people who found, collected and researched them … and they can also inspire brand new stories – as has been the case with a few of Manchester Museums’s objects that have featured in the BBC CBeebies ‘Teacup Travels’. Series one featured a brick mould and a wooden horse from our Egyptology collection. As Teacup Travels returns for a second series, it includes another of Manchester Museum’s fascinating objects, which featured here on Stories from the Museum Floor last year – this post is re-blogged below, along with an update to include it’s new story as part of Charlotte’s teacup adventures …

Teacup Travels – Inspiration for adventure

CBeebies’ Teacup Travels, produced by Plum Films is an adventure series designed to introduce children to ancient history and archaeology through a series of adventures.


When Charlotte, Lokesh and Elliot visit their Great Aunt Lizzie, they choose a teacup from her collection, each is unique and illustrated with a museum object. She tells them wonderful tales of adventure, and the children begin to imagine being there as each tale unfolds…

“This is a first for CBeebies to bring ancient history and archaeology to our young audience. The series combines story telling with high adventure in a way that will inspire and encourage children to want to learn more about life in ancient times. I think children will love going on the adventures with Charlotte to discover more about what life was like thousands of years ago.”
– Kay Benbow, CBeebies

Each of the artefacts featured is a replica of a real historical object on display at museums across the country. Teacup Travels is now in its second series, and the in the first episode Great Aunt Lizzie tells the story of Charlotte and the Adventure of the Wise Dragon.

Charlotte’s adventure in Japan from Teacup Travels (Episode 2:1). Images from: bbc.co.uk/iplayer

With an adventure that takes the young explorer back to Edo Japan, Charlotte meets a Japanese armourer’s apprentice who is maintaining his skills during peaceful times by recycling old samurai armour into wonderful sculptures. Just as he has almost finished his iron dragon, he runs out of silk! Charlotte goes on an epic quest to find more silk, and along the way she learns great tales about the mythical dragons of Japan.

This episode is inspired by one of Manchester Museum’s objects – a Japanese articulated figure of a dragon, or jizai okimono (No.: 0.9151/1091) which is currently on display in the Museum reception.

Below is the post published last year about the history of this fascinating object.

There be dragons here

In times of peace, how do highly skilled makers of armour fill their time? This was the plight of the Japanese metalsmiths during the Edo period.

Jizai Okimono translates literally as ‘move freely decorative object’. They are small articulated iron figures of animals, but can also be made from copper, silver and gold alloys. Fully articulated of both limb and body, this enables them to imitate all the movements of their natural counterparts – and it was these that arms makers created both to demonstrate and maintain skill in quiet periods. Even the scales on dragons are reminiscent of Samurai armour.

They represent craftsmanship of the highest quality. The earliest known dated example is a dragon bearing a line-engraved signature of its maker Miochin Muneaki dated 1713, during the middle Edo period.

Myochin Muneaki

Jizai okimono with signature of maker Miochin Muneaki dated 1713. On display at the National Museum, Tokyo.

Manchester Museum also has an impressive dragon, and the magic is in the movement!

Filmed as part of the Objects in Mind project, this is a great example of how the museum can provide enhanced access to its collection, with an object too fragile to be handled regularly. Conservator Irit Narkiss and Curator of Living Cultures, Stephen Welsh, discuss the luck dragon from the Living Cultures collection.

It was made in nineteenth century by Miochin Munetane. The Miochins were a manufacturing dynasty renowned for their arms and armament and were established in the twelfth century. Miochin Munetane was working in either the Edo or Meiji period. Dragons were important in East Asian religion and mythology, they represent bodies of water, lakes, oceans and rivers; they also bring rain and are responsible for flooding. There are many temples in China and Japan dedicated to dragons.

mcr dragon

‘Luck Dragon’ – Jizai Okimono, 0.9151/1091 Manchester Museum (Image from: Manchester Museum)

It is little wonder that these intricate and lifelike sculptures became some of the most collected objects from Japan by European collectors. After the Meiji Restoration the Samurai were disbanded, leaving high quality carvers and metal workers unemployed, these workers became makers of traditional goods and crafts for export, in response to huge demands for goods from the West.

Robert Wylie Lloyd (1868-1958), a mountaineer from Rochdale was one such collector, who certainly had exquisite taste and an aesthetic eye, described as a connoisseur of fine arts. He also had a keen interest in bugs! He became renowned in Entomology societies for his collection, which on his death in 1958 he bequeathed to Manchester Museum. At this point his fine art collection was also distributed, with the British Museum receiving 50 Turner watercolours. But then again, Manchester Museum didn’t come off too badly, receiving over 1,000 Japanese objects including a tachi long sword, and the Luck Dragon and several articulated iron models – some of them so lifelike that they could rival the real deal!

Another of Robert Wylie Lloyd’s bequests is on display on the Living Worlds gallery in the ‘Symbols’ case;

Snake – Jizai Okimono, 0.9695. Image from Manchester Museum

 This jizai okimono, this time signed by Munesuke, is used in this display to illustrate the ways in which people use nature symbolically, drawing on characteristic qualities of species. Snakes have been used to represent treachery in some cultures, while in others fertility, renewal and rebirth. Sometimes they are feared, and at other times worshipped.

The real beauty of these objects is in their animation, when they seem magically to come to life!

Michelle Scott

Visitor Team, Manchester Museum


Discussing The Luck Dragon – Jizai Okimono (2014) YouTube video, added by Manchester Museum [Online] (above).

Logunov, D. and Merriman, N. (eds.) (2012) The Manchester Museum: Window to the World, London, Third Millennium.

Okimono Project (2011) Western Influence on Okimonos [Online]. Available from:https://okimonoproject.wordpress.com/2015/05/16/western-influence-on-okimonos/ 

Tokyo National Museum (2011) Jizai Okimono – Articulated iron figures of animals [Online]. Available from: http://www.tnm.jp/modules/r_free_page/index.php?id=573&lang=en 

Welsh, S. (2012) ‘Collecting Cultures, Making Connections’, in Logunov, D. and Merriman, N. (eds.) The Manchester Museum: Window to the World, London, Third Millennium, p. 46-57.


4 thoughts on “Teacup Travels – Inspiration for adventure

  1. Thank you so much for referencing my Okimono Project (2011) Western Influence on Okimonos research on my blog. This is the first time I have been referenced. I feel very flattered and I am glad my research was of benefit to others.

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