Regular exhibitions at Tokyo National Museum are rotated almost every week. This page provides the latest information on the change of exhibits.
* Some works are exhibited for a longer period of time.
This exhibition displays contemporary netsuke, which was collected by the late Prince Takamado with her Imperial Highness Princess.
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Japan has three main traditions of sculpture: Buddhist deities, Shinto deities, and portraits of people. Buddhism was introduced to Japan from the Korean Peninsula in the 6th century, together with sculptures of Buddhist deities. These sculptures were made primarily for worship. Making a sculpture was also an “act of spiritual merit” that would help one’s prayers to be answered.
In contrast, Shinto is the indigenous religion of Japan. Since ancient times, people believed that Shinto deities dwell in natural features like mountains and rivers, and rarely depicted them as humanlike sculptures. Even when a Shinto shrine had a sculpture for worship, the priests usually kept it hidden from view out of respect.
Some portrait sculptures were also worshipped, as they showed deified monks or samurai. Others were made to remember the dead and pray for their salvation. This gallery features works mainly from the Heian (794–1192) and Kamakura (1192–1333) periods, when many of Japan’s most admired sculptures were created.
This exhibition commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Vienna World’ s Fair in 1873. The fair was Japan’s first real opportunity to display its art and culture on a world stage. It was also an opportunity for Japan to study and acquire works of art, industrial samples, and documents in Europe.
But after the fair, a steamship carrying these resources, Le Nil, sank on the way from Vienna to Japan. This exhibition features some of the objects salvaged from Le Nil as well as related materials about the Vienna Wold’s Fair. Objects gifted to the Tokyo National Museum from overseas after the accident also shed light on the early days of the Museum’s international exchanges.
Drastic changes in the late 19th century created new challenges for artists. The samurai government that had strictly regulated contact with the outside world collapsed in a civil war. Japan's new leaders announced the start of the Meiji era (1868–1912), engaging with the world and reforming their nation to be more like “the West” (mainly Europe and the United States).
These leaders soon realized that works produced in Japan were not seen as “fine art” in the West. Artisans often mounted paintings on sliding doors and folding screens, but this practice made them look like furniture to Europeans and Americans. Japan's ceramics, lacquerware, metalwork, and textiles were also labeled as “decorative art” rather than “fine art.”
In response, artistic traditions were changed to meet Western standards. Japan's leaders established schools of fine art, organized national exhibitions, and urged artists to participate in world fairs. They intended to show the world that Japan was a “modern” nation with sophisticated arts and culture. The works on display reflect how Japanese artists met these challenges.
This room mainly features artifacts discovered at Silk Road sites by the Japanese Ōtani expeditions at the start of the 20th century. Works are exhibited on rotation and illustrate the wide range of art and religious objects found in the diverse cultures along the Silk Road.
This section of the gallery focuses on bronzes, mainly from the Shang dynasty (ca. 1600–ca. 1100 BC) to the Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), including ritual vessels, musical instruments, weapons, and horse tack. It also features mirrors and other bronzes from Northern China, tracing the development of early Chinese aesthetics.
The Kuroda Memorial Hall was built to commemorate the Western-style painter Kuroda Seiki’s bequest of his heritage and works to the country. The Collection Highlights Gallery on the second floor preserves his renowned works Wisdom, Passion, Sentiment; Maiko Girl; Lakeside (all designated as Important Cultural Properties), and Reading, which are on view for the public three times a year (two weeks each during New Year, the Cherry-blossom season, and Ueno Cultural Festival).