Tuesday, January 23, 2007

5. Museum Review: Tokyo National Museum (Ueno)

The Tokyo National Museum is actually five museums within one entrance. As the oldest and largest museum in Japan, about 3000 objects are on exhibit. The works are rotated regularly.

As guests enter through the main gate, directly in front is the 'Honkan', or Japanese gallery. It was built in 1938 and has 21 exhibition galleries, all focusing on Japan. There are paintings, sculpture, calligraphy, ceramics, textiles, swords, historical documents, and materials of the Ainu and Ryukyu cultures. In addition to detailed Japanese explanations, there are basic English explanations for everything. This is a fantastic museum for those who want to increase their historical and cultural knowledge of Japan. It is easy to spend hours in this museum.

To the right of the 'Honkan' is the 'Toyokan', or Gallery of Asian Antiquities. There are 10 exhibition rooms dedicated to the art and archaeology of many parts of Asia. Without an interest in archaeology, many items in this museum start to run together. However, if you do have an interest, it is an excellent collection. Again, there are basic English explanations for each object.
To the left of the 'Honkan' is the 'Hyokeikan', which is only open for events. When I visited, it was exhibiting itself. It is an example of Western style construction from the late Meiji period. If you've ever been to Europe, or a city like New York, it won't seem very impressive. I was in and out in less than 10 minutes. There were almost no English explanations here. Also to the left, but a bit behind the 'Honkan', is the 'Heiseikan', housing a gallery on Japanese Archaeology. The exhibit was only half of the first floor. The second floor hosts special exhibitions (at an additional fee). Across from the 'Heiseikan' is the 'Shiryokan', a research and information center. This building is closed on Saturdays, Sundays, national holidays, the last day of each month (if this falls on a holiday, the day before), and over the New Year break. Almost all of the material available for reference here is only in Japanese.
Behind the 'Hyokeikan' is the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures. In 1878, Nara's Horyuji Temple donated over 300 works of art to the Imperial Household. These works were later transferred to the National Museum. The building they are presently housed in was built in 1999. I strongly recommend that you save a little time for this gallery. The building itself, and the view from it, are worth seeing.

To round out the museum, there is a lovely garden which is only open in spring and fall, and a couple of outdoor exhibits beside the Horyuji Treasure Gallery.

The Tokyo National Museum is very foreigner friendly. Almost everything was labeled in English and pamphlets/maps in a few different languages were also available. Younger children will be very bored here. I think it would depend on the personality of older children whether they would enjoy it or not. As for adults, I would actually recommend visiting twice. Once, concentrating on the 'Honkan', and a second visit for the other galleries.

Location: Inside Ueno Park

Admission: Adults: 600 yen, University Students: 400 yen, High School aged and younger: free, Over 70: free. There is a 100 yen discount for groups over 20.

Special exhibitions require a separate admission fee. There is a 100 yen discount for these exhibitions with the Grutt Pass.

Hours of Operation: 9:30 - 17:00 (last entry at 16:30). Hours are sometimes extended during special exhibitions. From April to Septtember, the museum is open until 18:00 on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. The museum is closed on Mondays, except when Monday is a holiday - then it is closed the following day. Also closed from December 28 to January 1.

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