We started our journey in exploring museums in Tokyo by first visiting the oldest and largest museum in the city, the Tokyo National Museum. It’s located at Ueno, just 5 minutes away from the Ueno station. Once you’re around the corner, it’s hard to miss the grand entrance leading to the huge museum.
The Tokyo National Museum was established in 1872. The museum acquires, keeps and preserves hundreds of thousands of artworks and archaeological objects from different countries across Asia. Inside the compounds of the museum, there are 6 different buildings and galleries dedicated to different collections and exhibitions.
We were pressed for time, so we focused more on the Honkan Gallery — the largest building right in front of the entrance. The gallery gave us an overview of Japanese art by highlighting works chronologically, from the prehistoric Jomon period (11000 BC) to the more recent Edo period (1600s).
Inside… it’s like a huge ass palace with a large and glorious staircase to boot. Lights were dimly lit throughout the old school gallery. We learned about the works by reading the didactic texts of each. Thank godness that most of them were in English!
The first few sections were dedicated to prehistoric works of art. You can say that we weren’t prepared to see pottery and ornate bronze statues. Everything looked so ancient, unlike the Japan we know today. Thousands of years later, Buddhism was introduced and things started picking up. From the influence of nearby regions i.e. Korea and China, the arts and culture in Japan was spread among the court and noble class and further developed, giving birth to works like calligraphy and ink paintings and rituals like the tea ceremony.
The later sections let us see parts of the old Japan that we already have in our minds — like the samurai armor and swords from the Muromachi period (1300s) and later, lacquerware, ceramics, kabuki masks and costumes, as well as elaborate and fashionable robes and accessories worn by men and women from the more modern Edo period (1600s).
We toured the Honkan gallery rather quickly, but since it’s so huge, we spent more than 1 1/2 hour there. Although it was just a short while, I think we’ve since thousands of artefacts and paintings and objects and learned a lot about the Japanese culture — in fact, TOO MUCH TO DIGEST! To think that we’ve visited only one part of the museum. If you want to visit the whole compound it’ll probably take you a day or two.
The Tokyo National Museum is a serious museum (in other words, not exactly exciting). But I swear you’ll learn a lot and will appreciate Japan more than you already have. Go lah. Admission is only ¥620, but we got in for free thanks to our Tokyo Museum Grutto Pass!