With the myriad of museums (and other attractions) that are situated in Ueno Park, you’d be hard pressed to pick just one. We know that for many people, Tokyo is all about the space-age technology and all things modern, so perhaps choosing the Tokyo National Museum might strike some as odd because the newest thing about this complex is the buildings. Stored inside, however, is Japan’s largest collection of prized historical pieces and national treasures. As an added bonus, after being in sweltering Ueno Park, all of the buildings are climate controlled! Huzzah!

Upon entering the museum grounds, I was delighted to find that complementary sun umbrellas were offered to shade patrons as they made their way from one building to the next. Clearly this, in combination with random cutouts, called for a photo op!

We then made our way to the Main Hall, which displays Japanese sculptures, armor, swords, calligraphy, kimonos, and pottery/lacquerware. Below we highlight a few of our favorite items from the impressive, but manageable, collection:

We enjoyed seeing the various pieces of ephemera, although Tony remarked that it felt like we were viewing an exhibit celebrating Japanese culture and history at the MET rather than visiting a museum in Japan. Somewhat unexpectedly, our favorite exhibit in the main building was actually a visiting collection showcasing the evolution of Chinese painting! Unfortunately, no photography was allowed, but some of the pieces were truly stunning and it was genuinely fascinating to see how different the Asian schools of art are in terms of technique and aesthetic compared to the Western canon.

    The ultra modern building housing the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures
The ultra modern building housing the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures

After taking a twirl through the gift shop, we visited the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures, which houses Japan’s most ancient Buddhist statues and artworks, taken from the Horyuji Temple in Nara, which was founded in 607. Although there is no denying the appealing sleek elegance of the building’s architecture that houses these treasures, we did find the stark juxtaposition between ancient and modern amusing. Also, maybe it’s just us, but we contemplated the value of showcasing and marveling over items that save for the fact that they are extremely old, are otherwise rather mundane. Obviously this is not true of every item in the collection (some really are treasures!), but we wondered how the monks would feel about the fact that their humble rice bowls were now sitting on pedestals being revered.

All in all, we enjoyed our time at the TNM, although we did feel as though perhaps some of the significance of the pieces and parts of the collection were lost on us because they called upon and knowledge base (such as references to folklore or traditions) with which we were unfamiliar and ill-suited to fully appreciate. Nevertheless, at 600Y a head, this museum is great value for the money, and is a great way to see some extremely beautiful—and remarkably well-preserved—remnants of Japanese culture and history.

Written by: Stephenie Harrison


In another life, I moved from Toronto, Canada to Nashville, TN to pursue my doctoral degree in Psychology. That chapter of my life is now finished, but I did earn the right to demand you call me Dr. Steph (though I respond just as well to plain old Steph). I am an avid reader whose book collection is rivaled only by my many pairs of cute shoes. I also like to knit, hold impromptu karaoke parties, and try new and unusual foods. Generally not all at the same time. I also really love to learn languages, which may explain why I took 3 years of Latin in highschool. I'm turning over a new leaf, so instead of looking forward, I'm going to work on enjoying the present, so the country I'm most looking forward to is whichever one we're in right now!

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Read comments (7)

  1. August 20, 2012 at 11:57 am
    Aug. 20, '12

    Although monks probably would find it strange to see their rice bowls revered, I like seeing a piece of ancient everyday life in a museum now and then. Even though they may not have the visual interest of the objets d’art or religious icons, they may be rarer since, being so mundane, they probably weren’t carefully looked after or preserved. The historic equivalent of my Corelle! 😉

    Interesting as always! I’m waiting for the piece on the cat café culture. Don’t let me down!!

    -)
    < o

    • August 20, 2012 at 11:58 am
      Aug. 20, '12

      p.s. that was supposed to be an emoticon cat, but apparently your comments ate it. 🙂

    • August 20, 2012 at 7:57 pm
      Aug. 20, '12

      One of the other exhibits at the museum were little netsuke (little wooden purses meant for men to carry items when wearing kimonos), may of which are quite modern. The idea behind the exhibit is that all object in their time are works of art, so I do see the value in every day objects! (And hold on to those Corelle, because one day they’ll be antiques!)

      Don’t know if we will make it to a cat café (we haven’t seen a single one!), but if the opportunity presents itself we will certainly do it!

  2. August 21, 2012 at 12:57 am
    Aug. 21, '12

    Those screens are GORGEOUS. I love the use of blank space. I can’t imagine seeing that in person. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. Plus, that modern building is so cool.
    jenn aka the picky girl recently posted..In the Classroom: American Literature

    • August 22, 2012 at 9:10 am
      Aug. 22, '12

      Yes, the screens were really amazing. The tiger one was actually quite large and was really stunning to behold in person! Also, the museum was really great at making sure the individual items on display had enough room to breathe (so to speak), so that you could fully appreciate each item.

      And the modern building was really cool! It’s exactly the kind of architecture we like, and it worked quite well with the treasures because it was so austere and did not detract from them.

  3. August 21, 2012 at 9:12 am
    Aug. 21, '12

    The first shot is so cute!! And I would have loved the museum too. It does look wonderful.
    Enjoying reading your journey 🙂
    Arti recently posted..Imperial Palace and East Gardens

    • August 22, 2012 at 9:11 am
      Aug. 22, '12

      I can never resist a cut-out! They were too adorable, especially when there were free sun umbrellas added to the mix! 😀

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