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The Tokyo National Museum (Tokyo Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan) houses national treasures from Japan and around the Far East and Asia.
Its archaeological finds range from Japanese artwork and archaeological pieces to artefacts from Egypt and India. It also has a collection known as the Horyuji Treasures, made up of over 300 pieces of Buddhist art. The exhibits at the Tokyo National Museum are arranged by category.
Tokyo National Museum history
Tokyo National Museum is Japan’s oldest museum and holds an impressive and comprehensive collection of art, artefacts and information about Japan and its cultural past.
The original collection, formed in 1871 and initially housed in temporary residences, was a mixture of artistic, historical, scientific, technological, and natural-history exhibits composed mostly of Japanese objects displayed at international expositions. In 1882 the collection moved to Ueno Park, the current location.
In 1886 the museum came under the supervision of the Ministry of the Imperial Household and began showcasing Japan’s artistic heritage, moving away from the scientific and industrial aspects. From 1889 to 1900 it was called the Tokyo Imperial Museum, from 1900 to 1947 the Tokyo Imperial Household Museum, and from 1947 to 1950 the National Museum. In 1947 the museum came under the control of the Ministry of Education.
The only part of the original building complex to survive the earthquake of 1923 was the gallery known as the Hyōkeikan. In 1938 a Modernist-style building with Oriental elements was built which went on to become the nucleus of a complex of buildings erected after World War Two.
Tokyo National Museum today
The Tokyo National Museum collects, houses, and displays a comprehensive collection of artworks and antiquities from Japan as well as other Asian countries. The museum also conducts research and investigations concerning its collection of books, rubbings, and photographs, related to fine art, and makes these items available to scholars.
There are over 114,000 pieces, 87 of which are designated National Treasures and 633, including the main building, that are designated as Important Cultural Properties of Japan. Around 4,000 of these artefacts are on display at any given time.
The museum regularly hosts temporary special exhibitions around fixed themes as well as its permanent collections.
The museum’s main building is large, but the museum complex comprises six buildings with many big enough to be considered museums in their own right. The complex is set within extensive grounds and the garden boasts five different traditional teahouses. Some can be booked for tea ceremonies, haiku readings, and other special events.
Getting to Tokyo National Museum
Tokyo National Museum is located in Ueno Park and is the easiest to reach from Ueno Station. Ueno Station is on the JR Yamanote Line, four stops from Tokyo Station , and a subway stop on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya and Ginza lines.
Tokyo National Museum - History
$10 million grant received from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott
With over 110,000 items in its collection, of which 89 (as of March 2019) are priceless National Treasures, the Tokyo National Museum is Japan's oldest museum. Any of the museum's buildings could be a museum of its own, so get to Ueno Park early and save a full day for looking at as many of the 3,000 items on display as you can.
The iconic main Honkan building provides an extensive overview of Japanese art and history, encompassing Buddhist art, samurai swords, kabuki costumes, intricate metalwork, and much more, all with great English information. The Toyokan expands this view to the rest of Asia, exhibiting art objects and archaeological artifacts from China, India, and beyond. The Heiseikan contains the Special Exhibition Gallery, Japanese Archeology Gallery, and Thematic Exhibition Room. Lastly, there's the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures, a collection of over 300 Buddhist treasures from Nara's Horyuji temple.
There are shops and cafes all around the museum, and during the spring and autumn, you can visit the museum's traditional Japanese-style garden and teahouses.
Located in Ueno Park , Tokyo National Museum is best reached from Ueno Station. Ueno Station is on the JR Yamanote Line, four stops from Tokyo Station , and a subway stop on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya and Ginza lines.
The most extensive collection of Japanese art treasures
This is not only Japan's oldest museum, open since 1872, but it has also over 114,000 pieces, 87 of which are designated National Treasures and 633, including the main building, that are designated as Important Cultural Properties of Japan.
Around 4,000 of these artifacts are on display at any given time. It would take more than 20 well-timed visits to see a majority of the artifacts in its collection. But the collection is so comprehensive that no matter how little or how much you know about Japan, you'll see extraordinary things here.
All things samurai
Many parts of the museum are devoted to samurai in particular, exhibits featuring swords and samurai armor. The collection includes spectacular pieces and artifacts used by common samurai, and the displays explain in detail how these differ from those used by the elite and ruling classes.
Inventiveness of craftsmen
Other areas of the museum are devoted to craftsmanship. Especially during the Edo period (1603-1867), a time of relative peace, traditional crafts flourished, and the museum includes fine examples of sculpture, metalworks, pottery, Japanese lacquerware (urushi) and textiles.
Areas devoted to Noh and Kabuki, the tea ceremony and Buddhism show further how craftsmanship and artisans contributed greatly to Japanese history, commerce and culture.
Stroll through the museum's extensive grounds
The museum's main building is large, but the museum complex comprises six buildings with many big enough to be considered museums in their own right. Even if you don't have time to visit each, at least take the time to walk around to see the architecture.
If you're lucky, the Japanese garden behind the main building will be open. Generally open to the public in the spring and late autumn to early winter, the garden boasts five different traditional teahouses. Some can be booked for tea ceremonies, haiku readings, and other special events.
Take the “My Town Direct Express Bus” (approx. 90 minutes) from the Keisei Express Bus Stop No. 3 (same bus stop as “Tokyo Shuttle Bus” to Narita Aiport). The bus stop is along Sotobori-dori Street near the Excelsior Caffé on, about a five-minute walk from Tokyo Station’s Yaesu North exit.
|9:55 Tokyo Station||→||11:26 National Museum of Japanese History|
|15:00 National Museum of Japanese History||→||16:26 Tokyo Station|
Fare: Adult (one way) 1,300 yen
Inquiry: Chiba Green Bus Co., Ltd. （Tel: 043-481-0808）
How to Access by Car
For those coming by car, Rekihaku is ten minutes from either the Yotsukaido or Sakura Interchanges on the Higashi Kanto Expressway. Parking is free.
The museum's collections include extensive collections of Chinese and Japanese artworks and artifacts, as well as objects from Korea, South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and beyond. The museum's first director, Machida Hisanari, envisioned the creation of a universal museum of the world's cultures, after the model of the British Museum. He worked to encourage cultural heritage protection legislation, and supported both historical research and the gathering of historical materials for the collections, as well as the undertaking of large Industrial Expositions, which would bring in objects from around the country and around the world, which might then be acquired by the museum.
The initial History and Tradition Section of the museum soon became the History section, and under director Mori Ôgai, the museum's exhibits were rearranged to flow chronologically. This provided a clearer historical narratives for visitors to gain a better understanding of Japanese history. In the 1920s-1930s, however, there was a push from the government for the museum to put greater emphasis on pre-Meiji period artworks, in order to inspire in visitors appreciation of the greatness of Japanese history and culture. Thus, the administrative/curatorial departments, and the exhibitions, were reorganized to place greater emphasis on art. The History department was eventually disbanded, and today the permanent exhibitions continue to have a greater flavor of being a survey of national art history, than of history even so, renewed interest in history continues to grow, and a few galleries continue to be dedicated to the display of historical documents and the discussion of historical topics. Ώ]
The first works of Chinese calligraphy and painting obtained by the museum were those from the personal collection of late Edo period scholar Ichikawa Beian (1779-1858), donated to the museum by Beian's son and grandson beginning in 1900. Donations by Hayashi Munetake, Aoyama San'u, and Takashima Kikujirô also served as important elements in the early stages of the formation of this collection.
The donation of the mummy of Pasherienptah in 1904 by the Director-General of Egypt's Department of Antiquities, Dr. Gaston Maspero, marked the beginning of the museum's Ancient Egyptian collections. Objects brought back by Ôtani Kôzui, who led expeditions to Central Asia in 1902-1914, similarly serve as the core of the museum's collection of artifacts from Western China and other parts of Central Asia. These collections, along with those of objects from mainland Asian cultures, are housed in the Tôyôkan ("Oriental Hall"). Artifacts from ancient Iran/Persia were among the museum's particular priorities when the Tôyôkan was first opened in 1968. ΐ]
The museum's collections of Ryukyuan materials has at its core a group of objects given to the museum in 1884 by the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce. The Ministry had been collecting Ryukyuan ethnological objects for the German Anthropological Society, as objects to study those objects not sent to Germany were given to the museum.
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The museums in Japan cover a wide range of topics. You can find museums related to religion, history, geography, science, art, war, and crafts. Western-style museums were first introduced during the late Edo Period when the Bakumatsu was in power through Dutch studies. The first one to open was the Tokyo National Museum in 1872. It currently has over 2,642 works that are designated as national treasures or important cultural properties housed in its various buildings out of the 10,476 in Japan. When it was first established it was known as the Home Ministry museum and later developed into what it is today. Then in 1877, the National Science Museum of Japan (formerly Museum of Education) opened and was devoted to displaying items related to physics, chemistry, zoology, botany, and regional crafts.
Within the next few decades new museums were being built like the Nara National Museum and Kyoto National Museum. At the turn of the century there were was an expansion of private museums and the first of the group was the Okura Shukokan Museum. It was first built in 1917 and houses the collection of Okura Kihachiro. When World War II all production of museums ceased as resources were focused on combat. After the war the government was proactive in establishing art museums.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Edo-Tokyo Museum aspires to be a cultural facility that offers high quality programs modeled on “iki,” an aesthetic ideal distinct to Edo, and, at the same time, “nigiwai (bustling)” with many visitors to this museum specializing in the history of the city. To this end, we will readapt this concept of “iki and nigiwai” to meet contemporary contexts on which the Museum’s basic administrative policy shall rest.
We will pass on to future generations the history and culture of Edo-Tokyo through the core activities of the Museum, namely, the collection of related materials, the holding of exhibitions, and the preservation of a collection of about 590,000 items. We will ensure that the Tokyo population at large will benefit from the outcomes of our studies and research, and we will hold diverse outreach programs. Furthermore, we will encourage people-to-people exchanges among people visiting from other parts of Japan and overseas, identifying the Edo-Tokyo Museum as a center of tourism and regional promotion.
10 Essential Museums To Visit In Tokyo
Whether a resident or a tourist, don't leave Tokyo without visiting these truly essential museums.
Tokyo is home to some of the most remarkable art, film, science, history and culture spots in the world, which often means that you can find local and national museums spread out across every area of the city — so choosing where to go may be a challenge. To help you narrow down your must-see, must-go spots, we’ve narrowed down Tokyo’s long roster of museums to the following 10 essentials. Locals, you have no excuse for not having visited those. Visitors, whether you’ll be in Tokyo for just a few days or longer, make sure you stop by at least half of these. Now let’s get started!
1. National Museum of Nature and Science
Nestled in the eastern corner of Ueno Park, the National Museum of Nature and Science is a must-see for anyone interested in natural and technological history. The facility is huge, and has an impressive collection of flora and fossils, which are beautifully displayed throughout the entire building. The museum also celebrates technological advancement, and displays a range of tools, instruments, literature and objects that have been used to preserve and study the world around us. Why not take a nice stroll through Ueno Park and pop in for an afternoon of wonderment? Look for the enormous (and adorable) blue whale statue next to the entrance.
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday to Monday 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday to Friday
Address: 7-20 Ueno Park, Taito-ku
Admission: ¥620 (Adults), Free for high-school students and younger
2. Tokyo National Museum
Also located in Ueno Park, Tokyo National Museum is one of Japan’s oldest and most celebrated museums in Japan. Opened in 1872, the museum displays a wide range of artworks, antiquities and artefacts from both Japan and other countries in East-Asia. It particularly specializes in art, archeological objects and historical documents, and holds around 110,000 items (89 of which are national treasures). Tokyo National Museum is recommended for anyone with a particular love for Japanese and East-Asian culture and history.
Hours: 9:30 a.m-5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday (closed Mondays)
Address: 13-9 Ueno Park, Taito-ku
Admission: ¥620 (Adults), ¥410 (University Students), Free for High/Junior High/Elementary School Students, people under 18 and over 70
3. Suntory Museum of Art
Located on the third floor of Tokyo Midtown, Suntory Museum of Art has been around since 1961 and proudly maintains a theme of celebrating “Art in Life.” The current collection consists of over 3000 articles, with each piece themed to have a close connection with Japanese life. Though the museum has no permanent exhibitions, it houses a range of paintings, lacquerware, ceramics, glass and other items — and of course special exhibitions throughout the year. Uniquely, the museum also offers traditional tea ceremonies every other Thursday in its Genchoan Tea Ceremony Room.
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday to Thursday 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday-Saturday.
Address: 9-7-4, Akasaka, Minato-ku
Admission: Varies by exhibition. Free admission for junior high students and under.
4. The Japan Folk Crafts Museum
Opened by Soetsu Yanagi in 1936, the Japan Folk Crafts Museum is the ultimate location to celebrate mingei (folk crafts). The museum’s collection is made up of around 17,000 craft works, including textiles, woodwork, paintings and other crafts. It also houses a range of works from Okinawa, the Korean Peninsula, China and Taiwan.
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Address: 4-3-33, Komaba, Meguro-ku
Admission: ¥1,100 (Adults), ¥600 (Universities & high school students), ¥200 (Junior high & elementary school students)
5. Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum
The Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum celebrates the work of avant-garde painter and sculptor Taro Okamoto. After Okamoto’s death in 1996, his home and studio were turned into the museum in order to display his art and share his creations with the public. Visitors can see exactly where Taro Okamoto lived and worked. The museum houses a wide range of Okamoto’s work, including sculptures and paintings, as well as a shop on the first floor where visitors can purchase various books and goods inspired by Okamoto’s works.
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Address: 6-1-19, Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku
Admission: ¥620 (General), ¥310 (Elementary School Children)
6. Bunkamura Museum of Art
Located a 12-minute walk from Shibuya station, Bunkamura is a museum, theatre, concert hall and cinema all rolled into one. The museum gives its visitors the ability to indulge in a wide range of artistic and cultural experiences all within the same location. Opened in 1989, Bunkamura exists as a ‘cultural complex’ celebrating art, performance, music and film. The museum receives around 2.8 million visitors per year and is an excellent destination for art and film lovers.
Hours: from 10 a.m. (closing times vary between the museum’s facilities)
Address: 2-24-1 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku
Admission: Varies per exhibition
7. National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan)
The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation — otherwise known as Miraikan — can be found in Odaiba, just a 15-minute walk from Daiba and Tokyo Teleport stations. This museum celebrates new technology and cutting-edge innovation and science. Opened in 2001, Miraikan was created to develop a greater understanding of science and technology, and to aid in Japan’s goal of becoming an increasingly scientifically and technologically creative nation. This museum is a must-see for anyone interested in emerging science and technological advancement.
Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Address: 2-3-6 Aomi, Koto-ku
Admission: ¥620 (Adults), ¥210 (18 years old and under)
8. Amuse Museum
Only five-hundred meters from Asakusa Station, Amuse Museum is an art and cultural facility dedicated to celebrating an ethos of “harmony, beauty and technology.” Amuse describes itself as a ‘live’ museum, specializing in textiles, graphics and designs influenced by Japanese traditional culture. The museum’s permanent exhibition, ‘BORO’, is a collection of textiles and patched clothing, some of which date back to the Edo period. These pieces are simple, and have been passed down through generations, each piece being mended through the application of patches of cloth, thus celebrating Yuyo no bi (beauty of practicality).
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (closed Mondays)
Address: 2-34-3, Asakusa, Taito-ku
Admission: ¥1,080 (Adults), ¥864 (University & High school students), ¥540 (Junior high and elementary school students)
9. Ghibli Museum
Regardless of whether you’re a fan of anime, art, and film or not, the Ghibli Museum is a must-see! Just over a 15-minute walk from Mitaka Station, the museum is an enchanting facility celebrating the history and works of Studio Ghibli, the company behind some of the world’s most renowned anime works (Totoro, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke — to name just the very basic). Expect to spend a few hours perusing the beautiful collection of original drawings and concepts, watching the exclusive animated short in the museum’s adorable cinema, and exploring the rooftop garden where you’ll find the five-meter-tall Robot Solider from Laputa Castle in the Sky. Keep in mind, however, this museum is immensely popular and you can buy tickets only in advance. See more about that here.
Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (closed most Tuesdays)
Address: 1-1-83 Simorenjaku, Mitaka-shi
Admission: ¥1,000 (Adults), ¥700 (Age 13-18), ¥400 (Age 7-12), ¥100 (Age 4-6). Tickets sold in advance only.
10. Edo-Tokyo Tatemono En
This open-air museum was established in 1993 to reconstruct, preserve and exhibit historical buildings so that they may be enjoyed for generations to come. These buildings range in age from early Edo period to post-World War II and you can feel the then-vibes by entering each house and building and exploring the indoors. From a Meiji-style police box to a photo studio from the Showa era, this open-air museum makes you feel almost as if you were on a time travel exploration. The facility also hosts various cultural events throughout the year, including its annual summer festival in August and New Year’s event in January.