Just outside the grounds of the Ueno Zoo is a wide paved pavilion. Walking from the zoo, past the Starbucks and to the left is the Tokyo National Museum. For those interested in Japanese history it is a great place to stop by and see a wide selection of art, architecture, and historic items. The museum complex includes five separate buildings, each with a separate focus.
Honkan: Japanese Gallery
The largest and most central building of the museum is the Honkan. Two stories of Japanese history and culture are displayed in a number of rooms with galleries ranging from pottery to swords, scrolls, and fashion. The second floor in particular is a walk through history via Japanese art, starting with the pottery of the Jomon period, through the rise of Buddhism , to the armor and weaponry of the military elite.
The first floor of the Honkan also had a number of exhibits with scrolls, calligraphy, sliding doors, lacquer ware, and swords. My time was limited, so I was not able to stop and inspect everything as closely as I would have liked, however, it was interesting to see the history I’ve read about come to life via the artifacts of the times.
Toyokan: Asian Gallery
To the right of the entrance is one of the more modern buildings on the grounds. The Toyokan features art from the rest of Asia. I stopped in for a brief view of the Buddhist statues on the first floor, but wanted to devote my limited time to the Japan exhibits. For those with a wider interest in China, Korea, India, and beyond, it is a valuable resource.
Heiseikan: Japanese Archaeology
One of my favorite classes in college was Japanese Civilization. I really enjoyed learning about the Jomon and Yayoi periods. The great thing about Japanese history is that you can trace the roots of modern culture back through time. While there are of course influences from other cultures, since Japan was mostly isolated it is easier to see where things come from and how other cultures affected native ideas, as opposed to the US, which is more of an amalgamation.
The Heiseikan was hosting the thematic exhibit Figures and Animals as Decorations on Jomon Pottery when I visited. The exhibit will remain open until October 27, 2013. In addition to regular historic artifacts, I was able to see many examples of pottery and art dating back thousands of years. It is easy to see why pottery and other arts are still so important a part of Japan today.
The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures
Tucked away in a corner of the grounds, is the collection of art donated to the Imperial Household in 1878 from the Horyuji Temple. From statues to scrolls there is an impressive amount of historic artifacts preserved in the modern square-shaped building. From the exterior it would be hard to guess at the contents. This exhibit would be extremely useful for those with an interest in Buddhism or when studying the impact of Buddhist beliefs on Japanese culture. There are many tools and implements used in Buddhist rituals.
The Hyokeikan is an old western-looking building to the left of the main entrance. Whatever exhibits might normally be held there are not available to the public at this time. There was, however, a concert in the foyer when I arrived.
Overall, my visit to the Museum was unplanned but well worth the time spent. I could have easily spent the rest of the day there, but wanted to use my one free day in Tokyo to see as much as possible. After leaving the grounds I wandered off to see Tokyo Sky Tree, but more on that in another post.