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Japanese Gallery (Honkan)

The original Main Gallery (designed by the British architect Josiah Conder) was severely damaged in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. In contrast to western style of the original structure, the design of the present Honkan by Watanabe Jin is the more eastern "Emperor's Crown Style." Construction began in 1932, and the building was opened in 1938.
24 exhibition rooms on two floors provide a thorough introduction into Japanese art: "Highlights of Japanese Art" on the second floor introduces the development of Japanese art from Jomon through to the Edo period in a chronological manner, and genre galleries presenting specific rooms displaying ceramics, swords, lacquerwares, sculptures, modern decorative arts as well as the material culture of Ainu and Ryukyu are located on the first floor.

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2nd floor "Highlights of Japanese Art"

Room 1  January 2, 2020 (Thu) - June 21, 2020 (Sun)

The roots of Japanese aesthetics can be seen in earthenware from the Jomon and Yayoi periods, as well as in dogu (small earthen figurines from Jomon period), dotaku (bronze bell-shaped ritual item from the Yayoi period), haniwa (terracotta figures from the Kofun period) and bronze mirrors (used as symbols of authority in the Yayoi and Kofun periods).

Room 1  March 17, 2020 (Tue) - April 26, 2020 (Sun)

In the mid-6th century, Buddhism was officially introduced into Japan from the kingdom of Baekje on the southeastern coast of the Korean peninsula. Japanese culture made a remarkable progress with the adoption of Buddhism. This gallery features early Buddhist statues, sutras, reliquaries, and ritual implements from the 6th–8th century.

Room 3  March 17, 2020 (Tue) - April 26, 2020 (Sun)

Buddhist art is one of the major genres that define Japanese art. Many masterworks date from the late Heian period, a time characterized as classical in Japanese art history. After the Kamakura period, Buddhist art further developed in its materials, methods, and styles as Zen schools and other new Buddhist schools emerged, together with the influence from the Chinese arts. This exhibit features artworks from the Heian to Kamakura periods, when Buddhist art most flourished, adding siginificant objects from the Nanbokucho and periods.

Room 3  March 17, 2020 (Tue) - April 26, 2020 (Sun)

The courtiers were strongly involved in the arts through the Heian and Muromachi periods, their aesthetic tastes playing a great role in Japanese art history. Literature works such as waka poems and other calligraphy written by courtiers, and e-maki narrative picture scrolls displayed in this room with decorative art objects.

Room 3  March 17, 2020 (Tue) - April 26, 2020 (Sun)

This gallery features works by famous artists of the landscape-painting genre, along with famous works of bokuseki (calligraphy by Zen priests).

Room 4  February 26, 2020 (Wed) - May 17, 2020 (Sun)

This gallery highlights the way of tea through its various art works such as paintings and calligraphy, vases, vessels for kaiseki meals, kettles, tea caddies, and tea bowls.

Room 5 & 6  February 11, 2020 (Tue) - April 26, 2020 (Sun)

Beginning with the sword which is the most important possession of a samurai, this gallery focuses on arms and armor, saddlery, attire of the warriors as well as their portraits and hand-writings.

Room 7  March 24, 2020 (Tue) - April 19, 2020 (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.

Room 8  January 28, 2020 (Tue) - April 19, 2020 (Sun)

The maturing of Japanese culture supported by the military and commoner classes continued throughout the Azuchi-Momoyama and Edo periods. This gallery introduces the craft of interior furnishings and daily utensils that adorned the life of the people during these periods.

Room 8  March 24, 2020 (Tue) - April 19, 2020 (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.

Room 9  February 26, 2020 (Wed) - April 19, 2020 (Sun)

Kabuki theater was one of the major entertainments enjoyed by common people of the Edo period (1603-1868). Women of the day admired kabuki actors and even copied their fashions.

Room 10  February 26, 2020 (Wed) - April 19, 2020 (Sun)

Introduces the fashion of the Edo period townspeople. Enjoy comparing with the ukiyo-e works exhibited in the same room.

Room 10  March 17, 2020 (Tue) - April 12, 2020 (Sun)

In the 17th century, painters started depicting the lives of commoners in a genre known as ukiyo-e. With the advent of new printing technology, these images began to be reproduced in high numbers, and ukiyo-e gradually spread to all layers of society. The addition of colorists to the publishers’ craftsmen also led to the birth of the color print in the mid-18th century. From March 17–April 12, 2020, this gallery displays scenic places known for their cherry blossoms, such as Goten Hill, Oji, and the Sumida River. The exhibition also includes paintings and prints of cherry blossoms and courtesans likened to spring flowers.

2nd floor

The Prince Takamado Collection Room  January 28, 2020 (Tue) - April 19, 2020 (Sun)

1st floor Genre Exhibits

Room 11  February 26, 2020 (Wed) - April 19, 2020 (Sun)

This gallery introduces the history of sculptural art in Japan through prototypical wood-sculptures featuring examples dating from the Heian and Kamakura periods, the zenith of Japanese sculpture.

Room 12  March 24, 2020 (Tue) - June 14, 2020 (Sun)

Lacquer is the sap of the lacquer tree, which grows in East and Southeast Asia. Naturally sticky, it can be brushed onto different materials, and hardens into a durable coating that is waterproof and resistant to acids, alkalis, and heat. Because of its versatility and beauty, lacquer has been central to daily life in parts of Asia for over 9,000 years.

In Japan, artisans coated everyday items with lacquer, including furniture, boxes, dining sets, and cosmetic and writing tools. The base material could be wood, pottery, cloth, leather, or paper. To decorate these items, artisans painted designs with a mixture of lacquer and pigment, or used lacquer like a glue to inlay metal and mother-of-pearl.

But the pinnacle of lacquer decoration in Japan is maki-e (sprinkled picture). It consists of painting a design with lacquer, and then sprinkling metal powders onto the sticky lacquer before it hardens. Artisans first used maki-e techniques in the 8th century. As shown in this gallery, they developed them to an extraordinary degree over the centuries.

Room 13  March 10, 2020 (Tue) - June 14, 2020 (Sun)

Decoration in Buddhism involves sumptuous representations of Buddhas, as well as ritual interiors of temple halls. The adornments used for this purpose are known collectively in Japanese as shogongu. This exhibition introduces Buddhist ritual implements such as containers for sarira, or literally, “Buddha’s relics,” together with items for esoteric Buddhist altars, and interior decor including ritual banners and pendent floral openwork ornaments. The works present an overview of multifarious metalwork techniques such as casting, carving, and forging.

Room 13  March 10, 2020 (Tue) - June 7, 2020 (Sun)

Exhibits selected swords and sword-fittings from the Heian to Edo periods, including the Long Sword (Katana), Named "Kanze Masamune", By Masamune (National Treasure).

Room 13  March 10, 2020 (Tue) - June 14, 2020 (Sun)

This gallery traces the history of Japanese ceramics from the 12th century onwards. Current exhibits include works featuring floral motifs of spring and early summer, along with a selection Japan’s early porcelain wares (early Imari ware).

Room 14  March 24, 2020 (Tue) - May 10, 2020 (Sun)

In 1868, after nearly seven centuries of military rule, imperial rule was restored in Japan under the reign of the Meiji Emperor. As old policies and practices were abandoned, a wave of anti-Buddhist sentiment swept the country. Many Buddhist temples were destroyed, along with the art and artifacts they contained. To stem the tide of destruction, the newly formed Meiji government passed laws protecting culturally valuable works and dispatched a survey team to record, reproduce, and photograph such works in 1888.

This thematic exhibition traces the government’s efforts to protect and promote cultural properties during the Meiji era (1868–1912) and focuses on reproductions of works from Hōryūji Temple, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan. A related special exhibition is currently being held in Rooms T4 and T5 of the Japanese Gallery, entitled Passing on Cultural Heritage: Buddhist Murals and Sculptures of Horyuji. That special exhibition features reproductions of ancient murals that were badly damaged in a fire in 1949, leading to the passage of the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties in 1950.

Room 15  February 26, 2020 (Wed) - April 19, 2020 (Sun)

Tokyo National Museum includes a large collection of historical objects and documents. This collection began with objects previously owned by the Edo shogunate government. From the museum's establishment in 1872 (Meiji 5) onward, the collection grew through the holding of exhibitions as well as surveys of cultural properties.

Room 16  January 2, 2020 (Thu) - April 12, 2020 (Sun)

The islands of Japan stretch from north to south, encompassing diverse natural environments. These environments have been home to numerous cultures over thousands of years. This gallery presents objects from two cultures that were independent from, but interacted with, the rest of Japan: the Ainu people of the north and the Ryukyu Kingdom of the south.
The Ainu are indigenous people who lived mainly on the island of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost major island. They worshipped and lived close to nature. The current exhibition presents tools the Ainu used for hunting, fishing, and weaving, as well as clothing and other items from daily life.
The Ryukyu Kingdom on the subtropical islands to the south had a culture strongly influenced by trade. This kingdom traded mainly with Japan, China, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Decorative arts from the Ryukyu Kindgom, such as lacquerware and clothing dyed with vibrant patterns, are currently on display.

Room 18  March 17, 2020 (Tue) - June 7, 2020 (Sun)

This gallery features paintings and sculptures from the Meiji and Taisho eras (1868-1926). Since the Tokyo National Museum first opened in 1872 as the exposition venue of the Ministry of Education, the museum has collected important artworks that signify the early development of art in Japan's modern era. The exhibit consists of selected works from the collection.

1st floor Special Exhibition

Room T4 & T5  March 17, 2020 (Tue) - May 10, 2020 (Sun)

In Spring 2020, we are commemorating the 70th year since the passing of the Act on Protection of Cultural Heritage. This law was passed a year after a fire broke out in the Kondo (Main Hall) of Horyuji Temple (World Heritage), one of the oldest wooden structures of the world. Invaluable cultural properties, including the astonishing 1300-year old murals from the Asuka period (593–710) were severely damaged in this fire.
In the special exhibition Passing on Cultural Heritage: Buddhist Murals and Sculptures of Horyuji, we are displaying excellent reproductions of the murals of the Main Hall, the Kudara Kannon (National Treasure) and other objects that were damaged. By showing these works we wish to convey the importance of cultural preservation.