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Change of Exhibits, Regular Exhibitions: Starting from February 20, 2024 (Tue)

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.

Japanese Gallery (Honkan)

 Image of "The Arts of Buddhism | 8th–16th century" 
Room 3  February 20, 2024 (Tue) - April 7, 2024 (Sun)

The beliefs and arts of Buddhism, along with its followers, became more diverse over time. In the Heian period (794–1192), the emperor and court nobility practiced and supported Buddhism. They used their vast wealth to build temples and create images for worship, often in delicate styles reflecting their tastes.

In the Kamakura period (1192–1333), the samurai gained political power, also becoming patrons of Buddhism. They preferred Buddhist art that was clear and dynamic, which led artisans to develop new styles. Many common people also became followers of Buddhism at this time, blending this religion with local beliefs, especially in the Muromachi period (1392–1573).

During these centuries, monks brought new schools of Buddhist thought from China, and developed new schools in Japan based on older teachings. Buddhism also became more integrated with Shinto, the indigenous religion. The paintings, sculptures, ritual tools, and sacred calligraphy on display illustrate this diversity in Buddhism.

 Image of "The Arts of the Imperial Court | 8th–16th century" 
Room 3  February 20, 2024 (Tue) - April 7, 2024 (Sun)

After emulating China for generations, the imperial court began to develop its own cultural identity around the 10th century. This movement was led by the court nobility serving the emperor. The body of work they produced — literature, calligraphy, painting, and elegantly decorated items for daily use — became one of Japan’s cultural foundations.

Even after the samurai gained more political power than the court in the 12th century, the court remained the home of high culture for centuries. The different art forms of the court were closely related, with literature playing a central role. Previously the nobility wrote in Chinese, but the creation of a new writing system (kana) helped Japanese literature to flourish. Both noblemen and noblewomen wrote some of Japan’s most celebrated poetry and stories, including by the court lady Murasaki Shikibu. Scenes from literature were also shown in paintings and on furnishings, which the nobility commissioned for their mansions.

 Image of "Zen and Ink Painting | 13th–16th century" 
Room 3  February 20, 2024 (Tue) - April 7, 2024 (Sun)

Zen Buddhism was introduced from China, and had widespread influence on culture in Japan. Zen does not stress elaborate rituals or the study of sacred texts. Rather, it teaches that meditation and daily tasks, even cooking and cleaning, are the way to spiritual enlightenment. In the 13th century, monks brought Zen to Japan as a complete school of Buddhist thought.

These monks also brought the latest cultural practices from China. One of them was ink painting, which uses expressive lines and delicate gradations to portray nature and people. Ink painting spread beyond Zen temples and became a major artistic tradition in Japan.

Another practice was calligraphy by Zen masters, which was prized for its spiritual and aesthetic value. Along with the painting and calligraphy shown here, Zen Buddhism influenced tea ceremony, garden design, and many other forms of art.
 

 Image of "Paintings on Folding Screens and Sliding Doors | 16th–19th century" 
Room 7  February 20, 2024 (Tue) - April 7, 2024 (Sun)

The paintings here were not just for looking at — they served many other purposes, even that of furniture. Sliding doors divided rooms, while folding screens could be placed anywhere to create private spaces, reduce draftiness, or hide items from view. Sometimes artisans decorated the paintings with gold leaf, which reflected light and helped to brighten dim interiors.

A painting could also change the mood of a room. Ink paintings might create a relaxed or meditative atmosphere. Ones with bright colors and gold leaf might evoke an extravagant feel. The subject matter and style of a painting could also reflect the formality of a room, the current season, and the tastes of the owner. This gallery surrounds visitors with large–scale paintings to show how they create different moods.

 Image of "Painting and Calligraphy | 16th–19th century" 
Room 8  February 20, 2024 (Tue) - April 7, 2024 (Sun)

A thriving economy, foreign trade, and better education invigorated painting and calligraphy. Previously, ruling classes like the samurai and court nobility were the main patrons of art. But in the Edo period (1603–1868), more people started to benefit from the economy. Successful merchants in particular gained the wealth to support artists and buy their works.

Many painters continued working in traditional styles, while others started looking to outside sources for inspiration. Paintings and painting manuals imported from China were one source. Another was the books and prints that traders brought from Europe, which showed techniques like realistic shading and perspective. As a result, painting in Japan became more diverse in style and subject matter.

Meanwhile, the ancient custom of writing with a brush and ink continued. The literacy rate increased dramatically as schools for different social classes were established, particularly in cities and towns. The publishing industry thrived and more people took up the art of calligraphy.

Asian Gallery (Toyokan)

 Image of "Chinese Bronzes" 
Room 5  February 20, 2024 (Tue) - June 9, 2024 (Sun)

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.