Highlights of Tokyo National Museum: make a must-see list!

Located between Ueno and Uguisudani station, Tokyo National Museum has a high reputation for its largest scale among all museums in Japan. As the museum consists of several buildings, it is quite impossible to look around all the corners in one day, frankly speaking. For people who cannot afford two or three days, we are going to introduce the essentials of the museum.

Covering a large area, Tokyo National Museum has a wide collection of National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties. You will never be disappointed or feel bored at such valuable assets even after a day’s appreciation.

Tokyo National Museum is not to be missed if you want to know about the beauty of Japan

Tokyo National Museum was established in 1872, and is the first museum in Japan. As of the end of 2016, the museum holds 116,932 collected items, which includes 87 National Treasures of Japan and 634 Important Cultural Properties. In addition to that, 55 National Treasures of Japan and 258 Important Cultural Properties are deposited in the museum for display. Tokyo National Museum has the largest collections in Japan, as of now. The number of visitors has reached around 1,990,000 in 2015.

As the data shows, numerous masterpieces are displayed in the museum for public generously. It is not surprising that there are guidebooks introducing that Tokyo National Museum is not to be missed if you want to know about the beauty of Japan. Therefore, if you are still hesitating which museum to visit in Japan, Tokyo National Museum is never a disappointing option.

Ueno Park, where Tokyo National Museum is located, offers a lot to enjoy

Tokyo National Museum is located in Ueno Park, a very sizable park in Taito district, Tokyo. The closest train stations are Ueno station and Uguisudani station, both on Yamanote line, which runs in a circle connecting most of the major stations and urban centres of Tokyo.

Get off at either of the two stations, depending on where you depart from:

If you starts from Shibuya, Shinjuku, or Ikebukuro, get off at Uguisudani station. It takes about 30 minutes to get there from Shibuya station.

If you are departing from Hamamatsucho Station, which connects the urban centre of Tokyo and Heneda Airport, get off at Ueno station. From Haneda Airport to Ueno station, it is about a 40-minute train ride.

Tokyo National Museum is a 10-minute walk from either Uguisudani station or Ueno station.

Ueno Park is one of the most top-rated sightseeing attractions in Japan. Other than the Tokyo National Museum we are introducing this time, the park offers a lot more to visitors, such as Ueno Zoological Gardens, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, The National Museum of Western Art, National Museum of Nature and Science, Shinobazu Pond, and Kan’eiji Temple. These are all great attractions definitely worth a visit. If you do not plan your itinerary beforehand, you will probably be lost on where to visit first and where next. In order to make the best use of your precious travelling time, we truly recommend you to make an itinerary before you go to the park.

Six exhibition buildings: each has its own theme

Tokyo National Museum consists of six exhibition buildings: Honkan, Toyokan, The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures, Heiseikan, Kuroda Memorial Hall and Hyokeikan. Each exhibition building has its own featured contents, for example, the regular exhibition of Cultural Properties is held with special lectures as well as workshops related to the topic.

Below is a list of the objects displayed in each exhibition building.

  • Honkan: Japanese Gallery
  • Toyokan: Asian Gallery
  • The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures: Treasures donated to the Imperial Household by Horyuji, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Heiseikan: Japanese Archaeology Gallery and special exhibitions
  • Kuroda Memorial Hall: Artworks by Kuroda Seiki, a leading western-style artist
  • Hyokeikan: Arts and crafts (open for events and temporary exhibitions only)

First item on your must-see list: 2/F of Honkan. Have a quick understanding of Japanese art

Honkan, literally “main building”, is a top recommendation in Tokyo National Museum. On the second floor, there are 10 exhibition rooms with the topic of “Highlights of Japanese Art” (literally from Japanese as “The flow of Japanese Art”) introducing thoroughly the development of Japanese art in a chronological manner, from Jomon period (131st century B.C. – 4th century B.C.) to Edo period (around 17th century A.D.).

Meanwhile on the first floor, there are exhibition rooms of specific genres, such as sculptures, ceramics, swords, and things of the sort. If you still have time after looking around the second floor, do have a look on the first floor too!

A Japanese-style garden in Honkan: open only in certain seasons

Other than exhibits, there is a Japanese-style garden in Honkan. The garden is open to public every year from March to May, and from October to December. During the period, visitors can blissfully take a walk in this secret garden. Every year in March to May, Ueno Park is especially packed with people who come for sakura blossoms. While the garden is not very well-known by ordinary tourists yet, it is a perfect place for you to avoid the crowds during the sakura season.

Time for special exhibitions! Let's head to Heiseikan

Situated next to Honkan, Heiseikan is the newest exhibition building among all. The Japanese Archaeology Gallery is housed on the first floor, whereas the second floor is entirely spared for special exhibitions. The special exhibitions have been highly praised for the wide-ranged topics and informative contents, and have become hot topics among local people and visitors. As it is officially one of the highlights of Tokyo National Museum, there are always lots of people crowded when special exhibitions are open. Do not forget to put it on your list too!

A different way to enjoy the museum: appreciate the building itself!

If time does not permit you to stay long in the museum, an option would be for you to appreciate the building itself, instead of the exhibits inside. Since 1900s, there have been new exhibition buildings built for Tokyo National Museum every 30 years. In 1900s, it was Hyokeikan which was built, then Honkan in 1930s, Toyokan and The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures in 1960s, and Heiseikan in 1990s, the lastest. Each of the buildings is of the newest architectural design in the decade. By observing the architecture, it gives you the idea of the architectural trends in different decades. For those who are keen on architecture, maybe the buildings look more charming to you than the exhibits do!

Souvenirs here! The shop in the museum offers whatever you want

“Museum Shop” is located on the first floor of Honkan. It offers a wide range of original goods including exhibition catalogues, specialty books, stationery, and other miscellaneous goods which are best for souvenirs. The canned cookies with National Treasure motifs are especially suitable for anyone in any age. Buying souvenirs for all your friends in just one shop saves you a lot of time!

Enjoy the most of Tokyo National Museum with the least time

Is your must-see list done yet? In Tokyo National Museum, capture a general idea about Japanese art on the second floor of Honkan, have a look of the special exhibition in Heiseikan, and then walk around Toyokan and The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures if time permits. Follow our best-planned itinerary and you will never get lost! Appreciation of the architecture is another great activity if you do not have much time left. Before you leave, do not forget to go to the museum shop and grab featured souvenirs for your beloved ones! Enjoy the beauty of Japan here in Tokyo National Museum.