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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  July 7, 2020 (Tue) - December 25, 2020 (Fri)

Japan has some of the earliest pottery in the world, dating back about 13,000 years. It was created by the people of the Jōmon period (ca. 11,000–400 BC). These people built permanent settlements and relied on hunting, fishing, and gathering.

At the height of their culture, they made pottery with richly sculpted forms and figurines with distinctive shapes.

In the Yayoi period (ca. 4th century BC–first half of 3rd century AD), people from Northeast Asia (now China and Korea) immigrated to Japan. They brought knowledge of how to farm rice and make objects with bronze and iron. More food became available and people started making tools, weapons, and ritual objects with metal.

In the Kofun period (ca. second half of 3rd–7th century), regional rulers seized power and resources. They formed an early state and the imperial line became its central authority. These rulers had giant tomb mounds built for themselves, with clay sculptures placed outside and valuable objects buried inside to express the rulers’ authority even after death.

  
Room 1  July 7, 2020 (Tue) - August 23, 2020 (Sun)

Japan's leaders transformed their society by adopting Buddhism and other foreign cultures and practices. Buddhism was founded by Gautama Buddha in ancient India around 500 BC. Later it spread throughout Asia and was introduced to Japan from the Korean Peninsula in the 6th century AD.

In the Asuka period (593–710), people from the Korean Peninsula brought advanced knowledge to Japan. They included monks, scholars, and artisans, who brought technology, scholarship, artistic traditions, and Buddhist teachings. Under the leadership of the emperor and powerful clans, Buddhism began to flourish as temples were built and sacred images created.

In the Nara period (710–794), Japan’s leaders emulated the Buddhist culture that was thriving in China. In the capital of Nara, the emperor oversaw the creation of a giant buddha sculpture at Tōdaiji Temple, the symbol of a state now unified under Buddhism.

The sculptures, ritual tools, sacred texts, and other works on display illustrate these two periods of rapid change.

  
Room 2  July 7, 2020 (Tue) - August 10, 2020 (Mon)

This room is specially designed for the comfortable viewing of masterpieces in a tranquil setting. With each rotation, one exceptional work of painting or calligraphy designated as National Treasure will be presented. The selections come from the Museum's collection or works that are on loan to the Museum.

  
Room 3  July 7, 2020 (Tue) - August 16, 2020 (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.

  
Room 3  July 7, 2020 (Tue) - August 16, 2020 (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.

  
Room 3  July 7, 2020 (Tue) - August 16, 2020 (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.

  
Room 4  July 7, 2020 (Tue) - August 10, 2020 (Mon)

Tea drinking and its role in society changed over time. In the 12th century, Zen monks introduced a new kind of tea drinking from China: green tea was ground into a powder and mixed with hot water. Monks drank this tea as a medicine and to stay awake during meditation.

Before long, the samurai also began to drink tea and competed for prizes in blind tasting competitions. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the elite samurai who ruled Japan focused on the aesthetics of tea drinking. They collected valuable Chinese works like paintings and tea bowls, displaying and using them during tea gatherings.

A century later, Sen no Rikyū (1522–91) established the foundations of the tea ceremony. When serving tea, he used valuable Chinese works together with simple utensils. He also stressed humility and the beauty of imperfection. Elite samurai practiced his style and its variations as a social, aesthetic, and spiritual pursuit.

From its origins until the present, the tea ceremony has always incorporated diverse genres of art. Works that tea masters believed had great aesthetic or historical value were carefully passed down through the generations. A selection of these works is shown here and changed regularly to reflect the seasons.

2nd floor

  
The Prince Takamado Collection Room  July 7, 2020 (Tue) - October 18, 2020 (Sun)

This exhibition displays contemporary netsuke, which was collected by the late Prince Takamado with her Imperial Highness Princess.

1st floor Genre Exhibits

  
Room 11  February 26, 2020 (Wed) - September 13, 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  June 17, 2020 (Wed) - September 6, 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  June 17, 2020 (Wed) - September 13, 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  June 10, 2020 (Wed) - September 6, 2020 (Sun)

Exhibits selected swords and sword–fittings from the Heian to Edo periods, including the Tachi Sword, Known as "Okanehira" by Kanehira.

  
Room 13  June 17, 2020 (Wed) - September 6, 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 of Japan’s early porcelain wares (early Imari ware).

  
Room 14  June 17, 2020 (Wed) - July 12, 2020 (Sun)

This thematic exhibition introduces masks worn in courtly bugaku performances and Buddhist gyōdō ceremonies in ancient and medieval Japan.

  
Room 18  June 2, 2020 (Tue) - August 23, 2020 (Sun)

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.