As the largest and oldest museum in Japan, the Tokyo National Museum has a staggering eighty nine thousand items in its collection! Art and archaeology are the two main themes and the treasures have been gathered from all over Asia.
Four buildings house the exhibits. The Japanese items are in the “Honkan” building. This is the building in the middle as you walk in through the main gates.
Once inside the Honkan Building, rest assured. Despite the general lack of signposts outside, English explanations inside, are really quite good. In addition, English maps and guides are available from the information counter.
Ancient Japanese pottery is first. If that’s for you, then you’ll be interested to note that some of the exhibits go back as far as 2500 BC! If not, well persevere, it’s worth it, Samurai warriors will be your next encounter. Great displays of armour greet you, as do some frighteningly sharp swords! A little further on, violence gives way to the more tranquil sides of life – colourful kimonos, blacker than black lacquer and a fine collection of traditional paintings and calligraphy.
From the Honkan Building, it’s possible to walk through to the Heiseikan Building. In here, believe it or not, dating back to 7000 BC, is what’s said to be the oldest pottery in then world! Be prepared for crowds too! This building also hosts special exhibitions, which are always very popular.
Next on your list should be the Toyokan Building. Alongside a couple of Egyptian mummies, you’ll find displays of artwork and artifacts from Asia and the Middle East. These include ancient limestone sculptures from China, textiles from Indonesia and a fifth century, golden crown from Korea.
Not yet out of time, then quickly pop along to the Horyuji Homotsukan Building. This houses treasures from Horyuji, one of Japan’s most important temples. The exhibits include bronze statues and special ceremonial masks. There’s also a reference room for accessing the museum’s digital archive.
Finally, having seen everything inside, take a quick look at the outside. The Hyokeikan building (not always open to the public) stands as an example of late Meiji Era architecture. Built in the early nineteen hundreds, the style has quite clearly been copied from the west. As the 20th century progresses however, blatant imitation seems to fall from fashion. The more traditional looking Honkan Building was in fact built in 1937! The remaining three buildings throw up no surprises. Love them or hate them, they are good solid examples of Japanese modern architecture today.
Open: 9:30am – 5:00pm (Ticket office closes at 4:30pm)
Closed: Mondays (except national holidays)
Tuesday, if the day before was a national holiday. holiday.
Approximately 1000 to 1500 yen, as determined by the Special Exhibition.
Over 65’s: Free.
How to get there
Take the JR Yamanote Line to JR Ueno Station. Leave the station via the Park Exit. Once inside the park, follow the signs.
Suggested amount of time needed
3 – 4 hours.