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Art and Architecture at The National Museum of Western Art, Ueno

Art and Architecture at The National Museum of Western Art, Ueno

Translated by Shinji Takaramura

Written by Koshizuka Misato

Tokyo 2015.09.11 Bookmark

The National Museum of Western Art, located in Ueno Park, draws many tourists from abroad. This article will show you why it's so popular.


© National Museum of Western Art

There are many museums in the Tokyo Ueno area. Among them, The National Museum of Western Art, located inside Ueno Park, a stone's throw away from the station.

Not only Japanese, but a large number of tourists from abroad visit this museum due to its accessibility, low admission fee (430 yen for permanent exhibitions, no admission fee for those under 18-years of age, or over 65 years of age), and above all, to see its valuable collection. It is said that 10 to 20 percent of the visitors are from overseas.

That is not the only reason this museum is so popular, though.

The Main Building was designed by the renowned French architect, Le Corbusier. Due to its origin, the museum was nominated as a World Heritage Site, and is currently going through the registration process, with hopes of being registered in 2016.

First, Learn About The Museum's History


© National Museum of Western Art

This museum was built mainly on the collection of the industrialist Kojiro Matuskata; this collection is also known as the Matsukata Collection.

Its main purpose was to introduce western art to the Japanese. Works of art from the medieval period, along with Impressionist paintings and some Rodin sculptures, are on display.


Kojiro Matsukata, the first president of the Kawasaki Dockyard Company (currently Kawasaki Heavy Industries)/ Photograph: Courtesy of Kawasaki Heavy Industries

Kojiro Matsukata, hoping to show authentic western art to the Japanese youth, collected about 10,000 works of art, mainly paintings and sculptures.

But a large number of that collection was sold during the economic crisis, and some were lost in fires.


Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Parisiennes in Algerian Costume (Harem), 1872, Oil on Canvas, Matsukata Collection. © National Museum of Western Art

The remaining collection was left in France, and claimed as French property. Eventually, it was returned to Japan as a show of goodwill between the two countries.

The National Museum of Western Art was built with this collection in 1959.

The Museum's Permanent Exhibition

西洋美術館 新館展示室③

© National Museum of Western Art/ New Wing Exhibition Room

The permanent exhibition is displayed in chronological order. Medieval paintings are in the Main Building, and the modern, contemporary works are displayed in the New Wing, so that the visitors can observe the transition in western art.

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Claude Monet/ Water Lilies, 1916, Oil on Canvas, Matsukata Collection. © National Museum of Western Art

You must see the exhibition room displaying Monet's paintings, where the Water Lilies painting stands out. The size of the painting is about two meters by two meters, so many visitors stop and look in awe.

*From October 10th, 2015, the permanent exhibition will be shown only in the New Wing, so the display will be changed.


Auguste Rodin: The Thinker (Enlarged), 1902-03, Matsukata Collection. © National Museum of Western Art

Don't miss the outdoor exhibitions, as well. The works of Rodin are displayed near the front gate, welcoming the visitors. Regarded as the "Father of Modern Sculpture," his monumental works, such as "The Gates of Hell" and "The Thinker," are some of the highlights of the collection.

It's Not All About the Paintings; There's Also Le Corbusier's Architecture


© National Museum of Western Art

The Main Building of the museum was designed by the famous architect, Le Corbusier, and it is designated as an important cultural property by the Japanese government. There are visitors who come to appreciate the architecture, along with the paintings.


© National Museum of Western Art/ Main Building Exhibition Room

In Le Corbusier's works, the walls are separated from the structural frame, and the plan and elevation of the building is designed in a spontaneous style. The spacious layout of this museum enhances the beauty of the paintings.


© National Museum of Western Art/ 19th Century Hall

The zigzag slope of the museum is also famous. This slope enables the visitors to see the sculptures from various angles.

If you visit the museum, be sure to take in some works of art, and architecture, while you're at it.


Natinal Museum of Western Art

Address: 7-7, Ueno Koen, Taito Ward, Tokyo
Station: Ueno Station (JR Line, Keisei Electric Railway, Tokyo Metro Ginza and Hibiya Line)
1-minute walk from JR Ueno station.
7-minute walk from Keisei Ueno station.
8-minute walk from Ueno Station, both the Ginza Line and the Hibiya Line.
Telephone: 03-5777-8600 (NTT Townpage Corporation Information Service)
Admission Fee:
430 yen (Permanent Exhibition)
There is no admission fee for those under 18-years of age, or over 65 years of age.
On the second and forth Saturdays of every month, and also on November 3rd (a national holiday), the permanent collection can be viewed free of charge.
Open Hours:
9:30-17:30 On Fridays, the museum is open until 20:00
No entrance allowed 30 minutes prior to closing time.
Mondays. If that day falls on a national holiday, the museum will be closed on the next day.
The museum is also closed over the year-end and New Year holidays.
Official Website: National Museum od Western Art

TOKYO Travel Guide

The information presented in this article is based on the time it was written. Note that there may be changes in the merchandise, services, and prices that have occurred after this article was published. Please contact the facility or facilities in this article directly before visiting.

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