Translated by Satomi Ohba
Ukiyo-e, Mandala And More: Tokyo National Museum
Written by Marina Wada
With thousands of Japanese cultural treasures and stunning pieces of history, the Tokyo National Museum is a place that you can surely get lost in.
The Tokyo National Museum in Ueno is a must-see spot when you come to Tokyo. The museum collects and displays art works & cultural assets from Japan as well as other Asian countries. Exhibitions change from time to time, but the total collection consiss of over 110,000 items!
Enjoy the depth of Japanese art from fascinating beautiful items to humorous and unique items, here in the Tokyo National Museum.
Main Building 2F
In the Tokyo National Museum, Japanese art is exhibited in the main building (Honkan, 本館), Asian art in the Asian building (Toyo-kan, 東洋館), and archaeological art in the Heisei building (Heisei-kan, 平成館). If you look through everything it will take a whole day. For those who want a shorter course, I recommend seeing the 2nd floor of the main building. Go through the entrance and climb up the majestic staircase.
The exhibition starts from the Jomon Period, Yayoi Period (BC) and the Kofun Period (3rd century AD). Pottery, Dotaku bell-shaped bronzes and haniwa figurines are displayed in this area.
This item called the “heart-shaped dogu (clay figurine)” has a heart shaped face as its name suggests. Haniwa faces seem sort of cute if you look close enough. Dogu mainly are shaped as female figurines, and is considered to be made by people of that period upon pray for good harvest.
Buddhist art starts from the next room. Buddhism was introduced into Japan in the Asuka Period (6th century) from China.
Buddhist statues are definitely worth seeing, but you shouldn’t miss this mandala of esoteric Buddhism art either! Esoteric Buddhism is a type of Buddhism that is said to have more mystical, spiritual, and symbolic aspects.
The mandala is so detailed and fine that you might get a little sick if you stare at it too much. It does have a mystical air.
Going on, samurai possessions come into sight. Valuable swords, armor, and other samurai items are exhibited in this area.
Grand-scale traditional folding screens and sliding paper doors are displayed in this area. The golden background makes the bright white and red stand out even more.
The Ukiyo-e room comes last on the 2nd floor .
Ukiyo-e is known to have a vast influence on western art. There are many types of ukiyo-e, for example beautiful ladies and kabuki actors, but the ones with beautiful ladies are interesting. Most of the ladies are drawn with an “oval face” which was deemed as beautiful at that time. Looking at it now, you might think, “This is beautiful…?” Checking out the fashion and hairstyle is another way to enjoy ukiyo-e art.
Genre Exhibition and the Heisei Building
If you have finished the 2nd floor and still have time, go to the special exhibition on the 1st floor, or the Heisei-kan where there are archaeology exhibitions.
The theme of special exhibition on the 1st floor changes from time to time. The “Family Gallery Looking at Buddhist Statues: Statues of the Kamakura Period” displays powerful Buddhist statues and is held till August 31, 2014.
There are many Buddhist statues, but this Nehan (涅槃) style statue is a must see, almost as if it is lying down to watch TV. “Nehan” means the day that Guatama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, passed away from this world.
You can move on to the Heisei-kan through the communication passage from the 1st floor. In the Heisei-kan archaeology exhibition, you can see a more enhanced collection of Dogus and Haniwas.
This is a famous Dogu that most Japanese will have seen in school textbooks. It looks as though it has sunglasses on, isn't that mysterious?
Haniwas, which were made to bury in burial mounds in the Kofun Period, vary in expression from smiling faces to somewhat worried faces like the one below. Looking at each haniwa face to compare differences may be fun!
Drawings, arms and armor, Buddhist statues and kimonos, you can see an entire scoop of mysterious and unique Japanese art all in one day.
Why not find your own favorite piece?
Tokyo National Museum
Address: 13-9 Ueno Park, Taito, Tokyo, 110-8712, Japan
Hours: 9:30 - 17:00 (last admission at 16:30)
Closed on Mondays and year-end holidays; if Monday is a national holiday, closed on Tuesday
Wi-Fi: Softbank Wi-Fi spot available at front gate, main building entrance and hall
Admission Fee: Adults: 620 yen, University Students: 410 yen
Credit Cards: Acceptable (Visa, MasterCard, JCB, AMEX, Diners, DISCOVER)
Language: Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean
Description Language: English, Chinese, Korean (German, French, and Spanish pamphlets available)
Nearest Station: JR Yamanote line Ueno station
Access: Get out from “park exit” of Ueno station, go past the National Museum of Western Art, and turn right at the square with the fountain.
Phone Number: 03-5777-8600