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History and art museums you should visit in Tokyo, Japan

Tags: museum

The bustling metropolis of Tokyo is not only a hub of modernity but also a treasure trove of rich history and artistic marvels.

In this article, the focus shifts to the captivating world of history and art museums that dot the city, offering a window into Japan’s fascinating past and vibrant artistic heritage.

From ancient artifacts to contemporary masterpieces, Tokyo’s museum landscape is a captivating blend of tradition and innovation. Whether one’s interest lies in exploring the Edo period’s intricacies, delving into Japan’s artistic evolution, or immersing in wartime narratives, Tokyo’s history and art museums promise an immersive journey through time and culture.

Join us as we embark on a virtual tour of some of the finest museums that grace Tokyo, celebrating its unique fusion of heritage and creativity. We have another article if you want to learn about other historical sites in Tokyo.

The Tokyo National Museum

The Tokyo National Museum, situated within Ueno Park in Tokyo’s Taitō ward, holds the distinction of being one of the oldest and most expansive art museums globally. Operated by the National Institutes for Cultural Heritage, it is celebrated as the largest art museum in Japan and ranks among the world’s most significant cultural institutions.

At its core, the museum is a repository for a vast collection of cultural artifacts and artworks from across Asia, with a particular emphasis on ancient and medieval Japanese art and Asian art connected to the Silk Road.

The museum’s treasures encompass an impressive assortment of approximately 120,000 Cultural Properties, including 89 National Treasures, 319 Horyuji Treasures, and 649 Important Cultural Properties, underscoring its pivotal role in safeguarding Japan’s cultural heritage.

The museum’s sections comprise a tapestry of diverse exhibits. The Honkan houses the Japanese Gallery, presenting a comprehensive display of Japanese art spanning prehistory to the late 19th century. Architecturally significant, the Honkan’s fire- and earthquake-resistant design ensures the preservation of these invaluable treasures.

The Heiseikan, named after Emperor Akihito’s era, stages regular special exhibitions and features spaces for temporary exhibits, offering a dynamic venue for art appreciation.

The Japanese Archaeology Gallery within the Heiseikan provides an insightful glimpse into Japan’s archaeological heritage, showcasing ancient artifacts such as Jomon linear appliqué pottery.

The Tōyōkan, also known as the Eastern Sea Gallery, is a haven for admirers of Chinese, Korean, Indian, and Southeast and Central Asian art. This section also houses Egyptian exhibits, creating a diverse narrative of Asia’s artistic heritage.

The Hōryū-ji Hōmotsukan, or Gallery of Horyuji Treasures, is dedicated to the precious relics from Nara’s Horyu Temple, while the Hyōkeikan, primarily closed to the public except during special exhibitions, echoes the Western-influenced architecture of the late Meiji Era.

The Kuroda Memorial Hall honors the renowned Western-style artist Kuroda Seiki, displaying a collection of his oil paintings, drawings, and personal artifacts.

Lastly, the Shiryōkan serves as a valuable resource for researchers, holding an extensive collection of books, magazines, images, and documents related to history, archaeology, and the arts.

With its rich assortment of artifacts, the Tokyo National Museum stands as a testament to Japan’s cultural legacy, inviting visitors to explore the nation’s history, art, and heritage in captivating detail.

The Edo-Tokyo Museum

Nestled within the historic Ryogoku district of Tokyo, the Edo-Tokyo Museum stands as a testament to the city’s rich cultural heritage. Established in March 1993, the museum showcases a compelling journey through time, featuring meticulously crafted city models that vividly depict the evolution of Edo and Tokyo from 1590 to 1964.

Designed by the esteemed architect Kiyonori Kikutake, the museum’s distinct architecture captures the essence of Japanese culture. The building’s design, reminiscent of a traditional rice storehouse, seamlessly blends heritage with a contemporary touch.

Its concrete exterior, resembling the stature of Edo Castle, stands 62.2 meters tall and covers an expansive 30,000 square meters.

The museum’s exhibits provide a captivating window into the past, with highlights including a life-size replica of the iconic Nihonbashi bridge, intricate scale models of towns and buildings spanning different eras, and the Nakamuraza theatre. Through these exhibits, visitors can explore the daily lives, architecture, and cultural shifts that shaped the metropolis.

The Edo-Tokyo Museum’s architecture has garnered both praise and critique. The building’s avant-garde design, with its elevated floors supported by four columns, embodies a harmonious blend of tradition and modernity.

While some laud its uniqueness and its role in redefining the area, others feel it dominates the surrounding landscape and disrupts the visual harmony of the district.

As a guardian of Tokyo’s heritage and a dynamic cultural hub, the Edo-Tokyo Museum continues to bridge the gap between the city’s storied past and its vibrant present, inviting visitors to embark on a captivating journey through time.

The Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum

The Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum, situated within Koganei Park in Tokyo, stands as a remarkable repository of historical Japanese buildings.

Spanning from ordinary middle-class abodes to the opulent residences of notable figures like former Prime Minister Takahashi Korekiyo, this outdoor museum offers an insightful glimpse into Japan’s diverse architectural heritage.

Divided into three distinct zones, the museum features an array of structures from different eras and styles. The West Zone showcases Musashino farm homes and Yamanote houses, while the Center Zone exhibits prestigious historical buildings, and the East Zone offers a reproduction of a downtown area.

The West Zone boasts attractions like the Tokiwadai Photo Studio, the Mitsui Hachirōemon Residence, the Takakura in Amami grain storehouse, and the Yoshinoya farm house, offering insights into different aspects of Japanese life.

In the Center Zone, visitors can explore various structures including the Former Kōkaden Hall, the Former Jishōin Mausoleum, the House of Takahashi Korekiyo, and more, each with its own unique historical significance.

Finally, the East Zone presents a wide range of buildings such as the Tenmei family farm house, the Odera Shoyu Store, the Kagiya izakaya, the Kodakara-yu public bathhouse, and more, shedding light on various facets of daily existence.

The Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum provides an unparalleled opportunity to immerse oneself in Japan’s architectural past, bridging the gap between historical structures and modern audiences.

The National Museum of Western Art

Situated within the vibrant expanse of Ueno Park in Taitō, central Tokyo, the National Museum of Western Art (NMWA) stands as a pinnacle of public art appreciation in Japan, dedicated to the rich tapestry of the Western artistic tradition.

Established on June 10, 1959, the NMWA’s roots trace back to the visionary art collection of Kōjirō Matsukata (1865–1950), a collection designed to lay the foundation for a comprehensive national museum devoted to Western art.

From the Renaissance to the early 20th century, the NMWA’s exhibition galleries encompass a remarkable range of artworks acquired over the years. It serves as a testament to its mission of offering the public an avenue to explore and appreciate Western artistic masterpieces.

Beyond exhibitions, the museum undertakes diverse responsibilities including research, restoration, conservation, educational initiatives, and document acquisition, embodying its role as Japan’s sole national institution dedicated to Western art.

Throughout its history, NMWA has curated engaging special exhibitions, often featuring artworks on loan from global private collections and museums. Notably, in 1963, the museum achieved international acclaim with a comprehensive showcase of Marc Chagall’s works from 15 countries.

Furthermore, a collaborative venture with the National Gallery, London brought iconic paintings to Japan, including Vincent van Gogh’s illustrious Sunflowers.

The NMWA building itself is a masterpiece, designed by the revered Swiss-French architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier. Completed in March 1959, the building’s avant-garde architecture represents the enduring cultural ties between Japan and France, post-World War II.

Recognized for its architectural significance and contribution to cultural heritage, the NMWA encapsulates the profound appreciation of Western art within the rich fabric of Japanese culture.

The National Museum of Nature and Science

Located in the northeastern corner of Ueno Park in Tokyo, the National Museum of Nature and Science (Kokuritsu Kagaku Hakubutsukan) stands as a tribute to the marvels of the natural world.

Established in 1871, this museum has undergone several name changes, evolving from the Ministry of Education Museum to its current designation as the National Museum of Nature and Science in 2007.

The museum’s historical journey is reflected in its architectural transformation, with its main building completed in the Neo-Renaissance style in 1931, an architectural masterpiece designed to withstand earthquakes.

The museum’s extensive exhibitions traverse the realms of pre-Meiji science in Japan, showcasing the nation’s scientific heritage. Notable attractions include the preserved forms of legendary dogs Hachikō, Taro, and Jiro, along with captivating displays such as a life-size blue whale model and a steam locomotive, creating a multidimensional exploration of the natural world.

The museum’s main building encompasses the Nihonkan (Japan Gallery), where the focus is on fostering harmony between humanity and nature. Comprising the Japan Pavilion and the Earth Pavilion, this gallery invites visitors on a journey through the relationship between people and the environment.

The Chikyūkan (Global Gallery) stands as a testament to the history of Earth’s life and humankind. Stretching across three floors above ground and three below, this gallery takes visitors on an immersive expedition through time and evolution. Its construction was completed in two phases, with the grand opening in 2004.

In recent years, the museum has extended its reach beyond traditional exhibitions. Notably, it hosted the Pokémon Fossil Museum, a unique collaboration with The Pokémon Company that brought the beloved franchise’s creatures into the realm of scientific exploration.

Overall, the National Museum of Nature and Science serves as a captivating portal to the natural world’s wonders, providing a space where history, science, and imagination intertwine to enrich our understanding of the universe.

The National Museum of Modern Art

The Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art, also known by the English acronym MOMAT, stands as a vibrant tapestry of Japan’s artistic evolution. With a rich tapestry of modern Japanese art, this institution, established in 1952, holds a special place in the cultural fabric of Tokyo, Japan.

The museum’s architectural lineage traces back to the visionary Kunio Maekawa, who designed its foundation. Over the years, MOMAT expanded its horizons by acquiring adjacent spaces, with the latest transformation orchestrated by Yoshirō Taniguchi, renowned for extending the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

MOMAT’s collection, spanning the Meiji period to contemporary times, is a testament to Japan’s artistic prowess. Notably, the Matsukata collection of ukiyo-e woodblock prints showcases around 8,000 captivating prints, once scattered worldwide, now lovingly preserved within the museum’s walls.

The museum’s creative embrace extends to the Kōgeikan Crafts Gallery, an annex unveiled in 1977. This gallery, now relocated to Kanazawa, championed Japanese craftsmanship, curating textiles, ceramics, lacquerware, and global designs dating back to the late 19th century. It stood as a tribute to the intricate work of Japanese Living National Treasures.

As an integral component of Japan’s cultural tapestry, MOMAT also played a role in the world of cinema. For decades, it housed the National Film Center, Japan’s sole public institution dedicated to cinema, until its transformation into the National Film Archive of Japan in 2018.

MOMAT’s journey of preserving and showcasing Japan’s modern art mirrors the nation’s artistic metamorphosis, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in a gallery where history, culture, and creativity converge.

The Shitamachi Museum

Nestled on the shores of Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park, Tokyo, the Shitamachi Museum (Shitamachi Fūzoku Shiryōkan) stands as a tribute to the cherished traditional culture of Tokyo’s Shitamachi.

Established in 1980, this museum predated similar initiatives like the Fukagawa Edo Museum and the Edo-Tokyo Museum, all reflecting a nationwide inclination towards local history preservation.

The term “Shitamachi” translates to “Low City,” signifying the lower plains of Tokyo extending from Taitō to Chiyoda and Chuō. Historically inhabited by Edo’s working class, including craftsmen, merchants, fishermen, and sailors, this area was the cultural heart of Edo, characterized by distinctive traditions and a vibrant community.

Upon entering the museum, visitors are greeted by a life-sized replica of a merchant’s house, where the art of crafting and selling traditional Japanese wooden clogs (geta) is demonstrated. Nearby, a rickshaw and a hand-pulled cart harken back to the bustling streets of old Edo.

The museum’s second floor hosts a diverse array of exhibits, including toys, dolls, photographs, kitchen utensils, board and card games, and displays related to local festivals and events. Notably, a donated public bath entrance (sentō) allows visitors to step into the past and experience a slice of Shitamachi life.

The Shitamachi Museum’s dedication to preserving the essence of this historic Tokyo district not only educates visitors about its vibrant past but also pays homage to the enduring spirit of the community that shaped its identity.

The Nezu Museum

Nestled in Tokyo’s Minato district, the Nezu Museum stands as a haven for art enthusiasts and cultural aficionados. Formerly known as the Nezu Institute of Fine Arts, this museum serves as a repository of Nezu Kaichirō’s illustrious private collection, encompassing pre-modern Japanese and East Asian art.

The museum’s journey traces back to its establishment in 1940, posthumously honoring its founder, Nezu Kaichirō. Opened to the public a year later, the museum’s exhibitions weathered the tumultuous times of World War II, surviving both the conflict and the subsequent bombing of 1945.

Following the war’s end in 1946, exhibitions resumed, showcasing the cultural riches preserved within.

After a comprehensive renovation, the museum re-emerged in 2009 with a striking new architectural identity envisioned by Kengo Kuma, an eminent Japanese architect. With over 7,400 cultural artifacts under its roof, including seven National Treasures and numerous Important Cultural Properties, the museum offers a multi-disciplinary journey through painting, calligraphy, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, armor, and more.

At the heart of the collection stands Ogata Kōrin’s Irises, a National Treasure and an exquisite folding screen, celebrated annually during a special exhibition that coincides with the blooming of irises in the museum’s Japanese garden.

The museum also houses a remarkable assortment of Japanese sword fittings, amassed by Meiji-era industrialist Mitsumura Toshimo, making it a premier destination for enthusiasts of this craft.

The Nezu Museum’s dedication to preserving and presenting these cultural treasures transcends time, offering visitors an opportunity to delve into the artistic legacies of Japan and East Asia while wandering through its thoughtfully curated galleries.

The Ukiyo-e Ōta Memorial Museum of Art

The Ukiyo-e Ōta Memorial Museum of Art, nestled in the bustling heart of Shibuya, Tokyo, is a haven for art enthusiasts seeking to traverse the rich tapestry of Ukiyo-e. Established in January 1980, this museum is a tribute to Ōta Seizo V’s unwavering passion for this traditional Japanese art form.

Housed within a serene corner of Harajuku, an area renowned for its fashionable boutiques, the museum’s unassuming facade belies the treasure trove it holds. Ōta Seizo, the fifth generation of his family, nurtured a remarkable collection of over 12,000 Ukiyo-e pieces. His legacy resonates through the museum’s rotating exhibitions.

The museum’s architectural elegance, evoking Japanese design, stands on a steel-reinforced concrete foundation spanning 776 square meters. Its two stories house exhibition spaces that come alive with the vivid colors and intricate details of Ukiyo-e art. A space for audiovisual presentations resides beneath the ground, adding an immersive layer to the experience.

Ōta Seizo’s collection, carefully accumulated over half a century, spans the full spectrum of Ukiyo-e. From exquisitely detailed prints by masters like Sharaku and Kitagawa Utamaro, to Ukiyo-e paintings capturing fleeting moments in time, the collection is a testament to the intricacies of the art form. Delicate woodblock prints, artful paintings, and Ukiyo-e-style painted fans breathe life into the narratives of centuries past.

Each exhibition, showcasing around 60 to 70 masterpieces at a time, offers a window into Japan’s cultural heritage. The Ukiyo-e Ōta Memorial Museum of Art is not just a repository of art; it’s a journey into the soul of a nation’s creativity, celebrating the beauty and essence of Ukiyo-e.

The Japanese Sword Museum

Nestled in Tokyo, the Japanese Sword Museum, or Tōken hakubutsukan, stands as a testament to the revered art of Japanese swordmaking. Operated by the Nihon Bijutsu Token Hozon Kyokai (NBTHK), the museum is a haven for sword enthusiasts and art connoisseurs alike.

As one of Japan’s few museums dedicated solely to Japanese swords, it holds a unique place in the country’s cultural landscape. Its collection of around 190 items includes not only swords, predominantly katana, but also tosogu (mountings), yoroi (armor), and invaluable documents on metalworking techniques.

The exhibit features swords that have been designated national treasures, important cultural properties, and significant art objects. Spanning various ages and schools, the collection showcases masterpieces from the Heian, Kamakura, and northern and southern clans eras.

The museum’s history is intertwined with the preservation of these revered blades. Established in 1948 by the Japan Art Swords Preservation Association, its journey has led to the present day, where the meticulously crafted swords are entrusted to the care of this institution.

The Ancient Orient Museum

Nestled within Tokyo’s Sunshine City complex in Ikebukuro, the Ancient Orient Museum (Kodai Oriento Hakubutsukan) stands as a testament to the ancient civilizations of the Near East and Central Asia. Established on October 5, 1978, this private museum was the pioneering institution in Japan to focus exclusively on the treasures of the Ancient Orient.

The museum’s collection boasts over five thousand artifacts, spanning from the Palaeolithic to the Islamic periods. Among its treasures are remarkable examples of Greco-Buddhist art from Gandhara, as well as significant pieces hailing from the realms of Palmyra and Persia.

The museum conducts valuable research on the cultural tapestry of the Ancient Orient, conducting fieldwork in regions like the Near/Middle East and Egypt.

Visitors to the museum are treated to both the Museum Collections and rotating Special Exhibitions, with regular thematic showcases that delve deep into historical and archaeological wonders.

Through public lectures, symposia, and a range of events catering to all age groups, the museum ensures that its treasure trove of knowledge is accessible and engaging. As you step into the Ancient Orient Museum, you embark on a journey through time, exploring the fascinating legacies of these ancient civilizations.

The Artizon Museum

Formerly known as the Bridgestone Museum of Art, the Artizon Museum (Aatizon Bijutukan) stands as a vibrant testament to artistic expression in Tokyo. This artistic haven, founded in 1952 by the visionary Ishibashi Shojiro, the mind behind Bridgestone Tire Co., serves as a repository for artistic treasures spanning continents and centuries.

Inside its walls, one encounters a magnificent fusion of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and twentieth-century masterpieces crafted by the hands of Japanese, European, and American artists.

A particular highlight is the inclusion of ancient Greek ceramic works that transport visitors to the roots of art history. This rich collection was previously housed within the Bridgestone Corporation’s headquarters in Chūō, Tokyo.

The museum embarked on a transformative journey, temporarily closing its doors on May 18, 2015, to make way for a new edifice. This new home, named the Nagasaka Sangyo Kyobashi Building, would rise as a beacon for art. The grand reopening took place in January 2020, accompanied by a fresh identity as the Artizon Museum.

Amid the closure, the museum’s treasures embarked on journeys of their own, being lent to other esteemed institutions for display. With a diverse selection of renowned artists, from Edgar Degas to Pablo Picasso, the Artizon Museum harmoniously unites global creative visions under a single roof, celebrating the boundless horizons of artistry.

The Currency Museum of the Bank of Japan

The Currency Museum of the Bank of Japan, formally known as the Currency Museum, Institute for Monetary and Economic Studies, Bank of Japan (Nihonginkō-kin’yū-kenkyūjo-kahei-hakubutsukan), is a captivating repository of Japanese currency located adjacent to the Bank of Japan building in Chūō, Tokyo.

Since its inauguration in November 1985, the museum has been an informative portal into the realm of Japanese currency. Notably, in 2010, it presented an exhibition showcasing wallets from the Edo Period (1603–1867) and the Meiji Era (1868–1912), offering a glimpse into the historical context of financial accessories.

The museum boasts one of the most extensive numismatic collections in East Asia, comprising over 200,000 specimens of coins and banknotes that narrate the journey of Japanese banknotes, their production technologies, and the culture of their usage. Among the exhibits, a particular focus is dedicated to the intricate art of counterfeit currency.

In addition to charting the evolution of Japanese currency, the museum houses an array of foreign currencies, with a special emphasis on vintage banknotes from China and New Zealand. As a treasure trove of financial history, the Currency Museum is a remarkable tribute to the economic narrative of Japan and beyond.

The Bunkyo Museum

The Bunkyo Museum (Bunkyō furusato rekishikan) stands as a testament to the historical richness of Tokyo. Established in April 1991, it serves as the local history museum for the vibrant Bunkyō area.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2021, the museum has welcomed over 560,000 visitors from 1991 to 2020, showcasing its importance as a hub of cultural heritage.

With two floors of captivating displays, the Bunkyo Museum offers a permanent exhibition that spans the annals of time. Beginning with the Jōmon and Yayoi periods, the museum delves into the archaeological treasures of the Yayoi period (900 B.C.E.–250 C.E.), a chapter made even more meaningful by the Yayoi neighborhood’s name origin in Bunkyo ward.

The exhibits then unravel the legacy of the Edo period and extend into the contemporary era, offering insights into the transformation of the area through the years.

The museum’s main exhibition is enriched with scale models of antiquated structures and streets, breathing life into the stories of yesteryears. Moreover, the museum’s basement serves as a dynamic space for hosting special exhibitions that further illuminate various facets of the region’s history.

As the Bunkyo Museum continues to chronicle time through its engaging presentations, it solidifies its role as a guardian of cultural memory for both locals and visitors alike.

The Kodaira Hirakushi Denchu Art Museum

Nestled in the heart of Kodaira in western Tokyo, the Kodaira Hirakushi Denchu Art Museum (Kodaira-shi hirakushidenchū chōkoku bijutsukan) stands as a testament to the life and artistic legacy of the eminent Japanese wood sculptor, Hirakushi Denchū (1872–1979).

This museum, founded in October 1984, is a cherished treasure of the city of Kodaira, preserving not only Denchu’s final abode and workspace, to which he relocated in 1970, but also housing an annex dedicated to his remarkable body of work.

The museum’s dedication to Denchu’s mastery is evident in the purpose-built exhibition annex, unveiled in February 1994. This annex serves as a sanctuary for Denchu’s creations, offering a mesmerizing collection that includes various sculptures and studies that bear his artistic imprint.

Among these is a notable bronze casting of Tenshō (Reincarnation), a masterpiece carved from wood in 1920. The sculpture portrays a figure engulfed in flames, potentially embodying the wrathful deity Fudô-myôô, regurgitating a diminutive human form.

The Kodaira Hirakushi Denchu Art Museum reverently preserves the legacy of an artist whose work transcends time and culture, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the profound artistic journey of Hirakushi Denchū.

The Mitsui Memorial Museum

Nestled in Tokyo’s historic Nihonbashi district, the Mitsui Memorial Museum (Mitsui Kinen Bijutsukan) graces the Mitsui Main Building, an esteemed architectural gem of Japan, classified as an Important Cultural Property by the nation’s authorities.

Within the museum’s hallowed halls resides a treasure trove that transcends time and culture. This collection holds both the exquisite implements essential for the revered Japanese tea ceremony and an array of Eastern antiquities, each piece a portal into the rich tapestry of history and artistry.

The museum’s repository boasts more than 4,000 cultural artifacts, a remarkable collection that includes six designated as National Treasures, 75 as Important Cultural Properties, and four as Important Art Objects by the Japanese government.

Rooted in the legacy of the Mitsui business dynasty, which amassed wealth even during the Edo period, the family’s saga unfolds over three centuries, resulting in six main branches and five subsidiary branches.

In 1985, the Mitsui Memorial Museum found its own home, the “Mitsui-Bunko Annex,” dedicated to the artistic and craft treasures of Kita-Mitsui, Shinmachi-Mitsui, and Minami-Mitsui branches.

This living testament to heritage, art, and culture continues to inspire and educate through ever-changing exhibitions, showcasing these treasures in downtown Nihonbashi and serving as a beacon of appreciation for artistry.

The University of Tokyo Museum

The University of Tokyo Museum (UMUT), stands as an integral part of The University of Tokyo. Established in 1966, its primary aim was to safeguard the university’s diverse collection. Over time, the museum’s mission expanded to encompass preservation, scholarly research, and public exhibitions, making knowledge and culture accessible to all.

Steeped in history, the museum’s journey traces back to its inception on April 1, 1966, initially known as The University Museum (Tōkyō daigaku sōgō kenkyū shiryōkan). In 1984, an extension was added to the main facility, dedicated to exhibition space.

On May 11, 1996, the museum was restructured and adopted its current name, reflecting a commitment to public engagement. It undertook significant expansions in 1995 and 2001, establishing new exhibition spaces.

UMUT’s expansive collection, comprising four million items, is enriched with specialized collections such as the University Herbarium, boasting over 1.7 million specimens. This repository has an extensive assortment from the Himalayas and East Asia, contributing to research and education.

UMUT has spread its influence beyond its main building, with satellite facilities like the Koishikawa Annex, Intermediatheque, and SEED, TeNQ, extending its reach to diverse realms of knowledge and culture.

The University Museum, guided by a rich heritage and a commitment to accessibility and learning, serves as a beacon of scholarship and cultural appreciation within the heart of Tokyo.

The Suntory Museum of Art

The Suntory Museum of Art, nestled within Tokyo Midtown, Roppongi, stands as a testament to the fusion of art and life. Owned by the Suntory corporation, it boasts a unique collection primarily focused on Japanese antiques, embodying the theme of “Art in life.”

With over 3,000 cultural objects, including one designated as a National Treasure, 15 as Important Cultural Properties, and 21 as Important Art Objects, the museum reflects Japan’s rich artistic heritage.

The museum’s journey began in 1961 when Suntory President Keizo Saji established the Suntory Museum in Marunouchi, Chiyoda, Tokyo. Later, it found its home in the Suntory Building in Akasaka, Minato. However, its location shifted once again to Tokyo Midtown’s site, inaugurating the new “Suntory Museum of Art” in 2007.

The museum underwent renovations and reopened in July 2020 under the guidance of architect Kengo Kuma, reinforcing earthquake resistance and embracing sustainable practices.

The collection, spanning 1,000 m², is divided into six categories: Paintings, Lacquerware, Ceramics, Glass, Dyed Fabrics, and Miscellaneous. Notably, the museum houses a National Treasure—a Heian-era lacquer box named Fusenryō raden makie tebako.

Among its Important Cultural Properties is a pair of screens titled “Kings from the Distant West on Horseback,” reflecting the influence of Jesuit-promoted Western art during the Momoyama period.

As a key component of the “Roppongi Art Triangle” alongside the Mori Art Museum and The National Art Center, Tokyo, the Suntory Museum of Art continues to inspire and foster appreciation for art within the heart of Tokyo.

The Paper Museum

Nestled within Tokyo’s Kita-ku district, The Paper Museum stands as a unique homage to the art of paper. Located in the picturesque Asukayama Park, this museum delves into the realm of paper production, with a particular emphasis on Western paper’s inception in Japan, a legacy dating back to 1873.

Operated by the Paper Museum Public Interest Incorporated Foundation, this institution finds its home in a four-story architectural marvel. The ground floor houses lecture halls and libraries, while the second floor hosts the entrance and the initial exhibition room.

Ascending reveals more treasures – a second exhibition space on the third floor, followed by the third and fourth exhibition rooms on the fourth floor.

The inaugural exhibition room dives into the contemporary paper industry, with engaging panels unpacking pulp origins, paper raw materials, and intricate manufacturing processes. Authentic machinery and meticulous models enrich the experience.

Venturing onward, the second exhibition space unveils a captivating “paper classroom,” allowing visitors to engage directly with paper’s unique properties and explore exhibits dedicated to the recycling of used paper.

The third exhibition room is a journey through time, narrating the evolution of paper and the industry itself. Finally, the fourth exhibition room hosts periodic special exhibitions, infusing fresh perspectives into the museum’s steady collection.

Situated against the backdrop of Asukayama Park, The Paper Museum stands as a remarkable testament to the significance of this everyday material in Japan’s historical and industrial narrative.

The National Showa Memorial Museum

Situated in the heart of Chiyoda, Tokyo, The National Showa Memorial Museum, also known as “Showakan,” stands as a poignant tribute to the past.

This national museum, under the stewardship of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, is a testament to Japan’s history during and after World War II, offering insights into the daily lives of its people during the Shōwa period.

Originally conceived as The War Victims Peace Commemoration Prayer Hall, the museum found its purpose as a bridge between history and remembrance. Opening its doors on March 27, 1999, the museum’s establishment was significantly influenced by the Japan War-Bereaved Families Association, headquartered at the nearby Kudan Hall.

Architect Kiyonori Kikutake’s masterful design shapes the museum building, offering a fitting space for reflection and learning.

Visitors to Showakan encounter a collection that serves as a poignant mirror to Japan’s journey during Emperor Shōwa’s reign from 1926 to 1989. Nestled close to Kudanshita Station and the northern entrance to Kitanomaru Park, the museum provides a somber space to remember, contemplate, and pay homage to the lives and stories of that era.

The National Art Center

The National Art Center (Kokuritsu Shin-Bijutsukan) (NACT) in Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo, is a distinctive cultural institution resulting from a collaboration between the Agency for Cultural Affairs and the National Museums Independent Administrative Institution.

Situated on the former site of the University of Tokyo’s research facility, this architectural marvel was brought to life by the visionary Kisho Kurokawa. Renowned for its immense exhibition space, the museum is a testament to modern design and innovation.

Unlike conventional national art museums, NACT is a captivating departure. Void of a permanent collection, fixed displays, and traditional curatorial oversight, it resonates with the concept of an ’empty museum.’

This novel approach allows it to serve as a dynamic canvas for a wide array of temporary exhibitions, orchestrated and sponsored by various arts organizations. This innovative policy has proved immensely successful, evident in the remarkable 69 exhibitions organized by art groups during its inaugural fiscal year in 2007, alongside an additional 10 curated by NACT itself.

The Monet exhibition held between April and July 2007 stands as a testament to this success, being not only Japan’s but also the world’s second most visited exhibition that year.

NACT’s identity extends beyond its architectural prowess to its visual essence, carefully crafted by graphic designer Kashiwa Sato of Tokyo-based Samurai Inc. Through its creative spirit, architectural brilliance, and forward-thinking approach, the National Art Center redefines the museum experience, embracing change and celebrating the transient nature of creativity.

The Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum

Situated in Tokyo’s Marunouchi district, the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum is a remarkable testament to architectural preservation and artistic appreciation. This museum stands as a faithful recreation of the original Mitsubishi Ichigokan, which once adorned the same location.

Designed by British architect Josiah Conder and completed in 1894, the original structure held historical significance until its demolition in 1968.

The present-day building stands as a meticulous reconstruction, utilizing portions of the original plans and materials, preserving the spirit of its predecessor. Comprising red brick and cast concrete, the three-story structure above ground and two stories below encapsulate the essence of the past while embracing the present.

Since its completion in 2009 and subsequent opening on April 6, 2010, the museum has established itself as a haven for art enthusiasts. With around 800 square meters of exhibition space distributed across 20 rooms within its expansive 6,000-square-meter floorplan, it offers an immersive experience in 19th-century Western artwork.

Of note within the museum’s collection is the Maurice Joyant collection, a treasure trove of over 200 works by the esteemed Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. A testament to the museum’s commitment to artistic excellence, the opening exhibition, “Manet and Modern Paris,” presented in collaboration with Musée d’Orsay, set a promising tone for its future endeavors.

With its dedication to history, art, and cultural rejuvenation, the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum stands as a true tribute to the harmonious fusion of past and present.

The Kodansha Noma Memorial Museum

Nestled in Bunkyo, Tokyo, the Kodansha Noma Memorial Museum stands as a testament to the convergence of art, culture, and history.

Established in April 2000 to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Kodansha Publishing Company, Japan’s largest publishing entity, this museum finds its abode in the former residence of Sawako Noma, the granddaughter of the company’s founder, Seiji Noma.

Central to its collection is the illustrious Noma Japanese Art Collection, a compilation of exquisite art objects amassed by Seiji Noma in the early 20th century. Revered artists like Kawai Gyokudō, Uemura Shōen, and Kiyokata Kaburagi grace its exhibits.

The collection encompasses a splendid array of Yokoyama Taikan’s creations alongside other contemporary Japanese and Western artists’ works, sculptures, ceramics, and a wealth of 6,000 shikishi, ornate Japanese paper or silk pieces historically used for artistic prose.

Delving into the museum’s offerings reveals not just art but an embodiment of cultural evolution. Its Publication Culture Collection, spanning the Meiji Era to the Heisei Era, showcases an array of cultural gems that have endured the test of time.

The Kodansha Noma Memorial Museum serves as a haven where the threads of Japanese art, history, and literary culture intricately intertwine, reflecting the nation’s creative spirit and ever-evolving cultural landscape.

The Idemitsu Museum of Arts

Located in Tokyo’s Marunouchi area, the Idemitsu Museum of Arts (Idemitsu Bijutsukan) is a cultural gem. Founded in 1966, it was conceived to house Sazō Idemitsu’s remarkable art collection, amassed over seven decades. As the visionary founder of Idemitsu Kōsan, an esteemed oil company, Idemitsu’s legacy echoes through this institution.

Administered as an incorporated foundation of Idemitsu Kōsan, the museum extends its influence through a branch, the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Moji. This extension, inaugurated in Mojikō Retro Town in Fukuoka Prefecture, adds a vibrant touch to cultural enrichment beyond Tokyo.

In 2019, a monumental acquisition took place, with the museum acquiring 190 works, predominantly Edo period paintings, from avid collectors Joe and Etsuko Price. This illustrious ensemble features masterpieces like Itō Jakuchū’s Birds and Animals in the Flower Garden and Maruyama Okyo’s Tiger, spotlighting Edo period brilliance.

Inside, the collection is a mosaic of Japanese paintings, East Asian ceramics, and contemporary marvels like Misai Kosugi’s paintings and Itaya Hazan’s ceramics. Western paintings by luminaries such as Georges Rouault and Sam Francis further enrich the ensemble.

With around 15,000 cultural treasures in its care, the museum proudly safeguards two National Treasures and 57 Important Cultural Properties, weaving a narrative of Japan’s heritage. With several temporary exhibitions annually, the Idemitsu Museum of Arts is a dynamic beacon of artistic expression.

The Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage

The Center of the Tokyo Raids and War Damage (Tōkyō Daikūshū Sensai Shiryō Sentā) stands as a solemn witness to the harrowing events of World War II. Opened in 2002 and later renovated in 2005 to mark the 60th anniversary of the bombings, the museum is a repository of history and remembrance.

In a city scarred by the past, the museum serves as a repository of information and artifacts that convey the tragic bombing of Tokyo during the war. The Center, inaugurated through private donations in collaboration with the Institute of Politics and Economy, holds the stories of the 1945 carpet bombing raid.

This raid turned the once-vibrant Shitamachi district into a fiery inferno, forcing a million people to become refugees and claiming the lives of an estimated hundred thousand individuals.

Envisioned as a place of learning, the Center has expanded its space to accommodate exhibits and lecture rooms for student groups. Through photographs, maps, and original artworks, the museum’s walls bear witness to the horrors of the air raid. It stands as a poignant reminder that the pain endured by civilians must never be in vain.

With a resolute commitment to fostering peace, the Center strives to pass on knowledge to future generations and inspire a shared dedication to a world free from such tragedies.

The Daimyo Clock Museum

Nestled in the heart of Yanaka 2-chōme, Tokyo, the Daimyo Clock Museum stands as a testament to the historical significance of Japanese timepieces from the Edo period.

Established in 1972, this intimate community-run museum was brought to life to showcase a remarkable collection of Japanese clocks amassed by Sakujiro Kamiguchi, nicknamed “Guro.”

The roots of the museum trace back to Sakujiro Kamiguchi’s diverse interests, which ranged from pottery to unique timekeeping devices. Kamiguchi’s journey into the world of Japanese clocks commenced when he stumbled upon an English-made watch with a sundial in a local shop.

Recognizing the cultural significance of daimyo clocks, Kamiguchi’s passion flourished, prompting him to establish the Kamiguchi Japanese Clock Preservation Society in 1951.

Daimyōs, the elite feudal aristocracy of Japan during the Edo period, were the exclusive patrons of lavish timepieces. The museum’s collection, a window into this aristocratic past, comprises around 50 meticulously selected items, including mechanical clocks, sundials, and incense clocks once owned by daimyo families.

While the museum’s labels are exclusively in Japanese, an English-language pamphlet provides insight into the traditional Japanese timekeeping system.

Accessible from Nezu metro station on the Chiyoda line or Nippori Japan Rail station, the Daimyo Clock Museum is a cherished repository of timekeeping history, inviting visitors to explore the artistry and legacy of these exquisite timepieces.

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History and art museums you should visit in Tokyo, Japan


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