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.
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.