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Special Exhibition Celebrating the Enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor
Shosoin: Essential Treasures of Ancient Japan Passed Down by the Imperial Family

Special Exhibition Celebrating the Enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor
Shosoin: Essential Treasures of Ancient Japan Passed Down by the Imperial Family / Heiseikan Special Exhibition Galleries   October 14, 2019 (Mon) - November 24, 2019 (Sun)

  
Eight-lobed bronze mirror decorated on the back with mother-of-pearl inlay, No. 13., China, Tang Dynasty, 8th century (The Shosoin Treasure, On exhibit from November 6 to November 24, 2019)

In celebration of the enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor, the Museum will hold a special exhibition featuring culturally significant pieces from the formative Asuka and Nara periods (593–794). Visitors will have the rare opportunity to view the Shosoin Treasures and the Horyuji Treasures together in a single exhibition hall. As befits the inaugural year of the Imperial era “Reiwa,” this special exhibition will also provide insight into the history of Japanese culture for international audiences. The significance of these works lies not only in their status as masterpieces passed down by the Imperial Household, but also in their inestimable cultural value that grows with each passing year.

 

Highlights of the Exhibition

General Information

List of Works (PDFPDF 186KB)

 

 

Highlights of the Exhibition

 

 

Shosoin
The Shosoin Treasures

The Shosoin Treasures are treasured artifacts stored in the North, Middle, and South Sections of the Shosoin Repository.
The North Section houses offerings made by Empress Komyo, with other offerings kept in the Middle Section. Both these sections have been locked under imperial order and required imperial authorization to open them. The South Section stores ritual items and other materials belonging to Todaiji Temple. This section remained under the control of Todaiji until the Meiji period, since when it has also been locked under imperial order.
 

 

 

  Chapter 1: The Treasures of Emperor Shomu and Empress Komyo

On the 21st day of the 6th month, Tenpyo-Shoho 8 (756), a Buddhist ceremony was held to mark 49 days since the passing of Emperor Shomu. On this occasion, Empress Komyo offered around 650 of Emperor Shomu’s beloved treasures to the Great Buddha of Todaiji Temple with a prayer that her late husband would be swiftly delivered to a peaceful afterlife in the Buddhist Pure Land. Whenever she saw these precious objects, the Empress would feel a piercing sadness as she recalled the days spent with her husband. These emotive items have been protected and passed down to the present day as the Shosoin Treasures.
Chapter 1 introduces these treasures associated with Emperor Shomu and Empress Komyo, with a focus on the items listed in the Record of Imperial Bequest to Todaiji Temple (List of Rare Treasures of the State) (No. 4; on display until November 4), a record offered up alongside the treasures.

 

Record of Imperial Bequest to Todaiji Temple (List of Rare Treasures of the State) (detail)
 
Record of Imperial Bequest to Todaiji Temple (List of Rare Treasures of the State) (detail)
 
Record of Imperial Bequest to Todaiji Temple (List of Rare Treasures of the State) (detail)
Nara period, dated 756
Shosoin (The Shosoin Treasures)
(On exhibit from October 14 to November 4, 2019)
 

 

Eight-lobed Mirror, With mother-ofpearl inlay on the rear side

Eight-lobed Mirror, With mother-ofpearl inlay on the rear side
Tang dynasty (China), 8th century
Shosoin (The Shosoin Treasures)
(On exhibit from November 6 to November 24, 2019)
 
Mirror with Sea and Islands

Mirror with Sea and Islands
Tang dynasty (China) or Nara period, 8th century
Tokyo National Museum (Horyuji Treasures, National Treasure)
 

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  Chapter 2: The Resplendent World of Textiles

The Shosoin Treasures include a large number of textiles. Together with the fabrics passed down by Horyuji Temple, these are the world’s oldest examples of objects passed down from person to person (as opposed to excavated objects).
Many textiles were produced for the eye-opening ceremony of the Great Buddha of Todaiji Temple in 752 and for a ceremony held to commemorate the first anniversary of Emperor Shomu’s passing in 757. These were stored in Todaiji after the ceremonies and passed down to the present day as the Shosoin Treasures. The highly-refined textile techniques of the Nara period (710–794) set the standard for later eras in Japan, and the textiles themselves retain their brilliance to this day.
Chapter 2 introduces the resplendent world of textiles that existed under the reign of Emperor Shomu during the Nara period, with a focus on pieces from the Shosoin Repository.
 

Ink Image of Bodhisattva

Ink Image of Bodhisattva
Nara period, 8th century
Shosoin (The Shosoin Treasures)
(On exhibit from October 14 to November 4, 2019)
Ink Image of Bodhisattva

Ink Image of Bodhisattva
Nara period, 8th century
Shosoin (The Shosoin Treasures)
(On exhibit from October 14 to November 4, 2019)
 
Joku Mat for Offering Table, With kyokechi design on dark blue ground

Joku Mat for Offering Table, With kyokechi design on dark blue ground
Joku Mat for Offering Table, With kyokechi design on dark blue ground
Nara period, 8th century
Shosoin (The Shosoin Treasures)
(On exhibit from November 6 to November 24, 2019)
 

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  Chapter 3: The World of Celebrated Incense

The burning of incense wood is one of the most honorable forms of offerings to the Buddha. This is why several precious blocks of incense wood were stored at Todaiji Temple. Of particular note is the Ojukuko, a piece of incense wood more commonly known by the name "Ranjatai". The Ojukuko is said to be the "finest incense under the sun," with several pieces also cut off by renowned historical figures such as Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436–1490), Oda Nobunaga (1534–1582), and Emperor Meiji (1852–1912).
According to The Chronicles of Japan, a log of agarwood was washed ashore at Awaji Island in the third year of the reign of Empress Suiko (595). There are several objects associated with this agarwood log, and they have been passed down as part of the Horyuji Treasures.
Chapter 3 steps inside this redolent world to introduce these legendary blocks of incense wood along with incense burners and other related utensils.

Ojukuko (Incense wood)
Ojukuko (Incense wood)
Ojukuko (Incense wood) (detail)

Ojukuko (Incense wood)
Southeast Asia
Shosoin (The Shosoin Treasures)
 

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  Chapter 4: The Shosoin Repository’s Biwa Lutes

The musical instruments in the Shosoin Repository hold an important place in the global history of music.
The origins of five-stringed biwa lutes trace back to India. The instrument has all but disappeared now, with the Shosoin housing the only extant example. The Five-stringed Biwa Lute, Red sandalwood with mother-of-pearl inlay (No. 69; on display until November 4) features an exotic, resplendent design rendered in mother-of-pearl inlay.
The roots of four-stringed biwa lutes lie in Persia. These instruments are characterized by bent necks and they have essentially retained their original shape to the present day. The Biwa lute, Red sandalwood with marquetry decoration (No. 71; on display from November 6) features a design in marquetry (a type of inlay made of small pieces of colored wood) and a depiction of hunting on the plectrum guard.
In Chapter 4, the world of beauty surrounding the Shosoin’s musical instruments is introduced through these resplendent biwa lutes.

 

Five-stringed Biwa Lute, Red sandalwood with mother-of-pearl inlay
 
 

Five-stringed Biwa Lute, Red sandalwood with mother-of-pearl inlay
Tang dynasty (China), 8th century
Shosoin (The Shosoin Treasures)
(On exhibit from October 14 to November 4, 2019)
 

 

 

Biwa Lute, Red sandalwood with marquetry decoration
 
Biwa Lute, Red sandalwood with marquetry decoration
Tang dynasty (China) or Nara period, 8th century
Shosoin (The Shosoin Treasures)
(On exhibit from November 6 to November 24, 2019)
 

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  Chapter 5: The Treasures of Horyuji and Todaiji Temples

The Horyuji and the Shosoin Treasures are both representative examples of ancient Japanese arts and crafts.
Horyuji Temple was established in the 15th year of the reign of Empress Suiko (607). It burnt down in the 9th year of the reign of Emperor Tenji (670), though it was subsequently rebuilt, with the East Precinct constructed around Tenpyo 10 (738).
Todaiji Temple served as the head institution of the state-sponsored temples established across Japan by Emperor Shomu. The eye-opening ceremony of Todaiji’s Great Buddha was held in Tenpyo-Shoho 4 (752). Preserved at Todaiji’s Shosoin Repository, the Shosoin Treasures include artifacts cherished by Emperor Shomu as well as items used in the eye-opening ceremony.
Chapter 5 displays the historic treasures of Horyuji and Todaiji’s Shosoin Repository side by side to trace how aesthetic sensibilities shifted from the Asuka period (593–710) to the Nara period (710–794).

 

Gigaku Mask of Suiko-o (Drunken Persian King)

Gigaku Mask of Suiko-o (Drunken Persian King)
Nara period, 8th century
Shosoin (The Shosoin Treasures)
(On exhibit from October 14 to November 4, 2019)
 

 

Gigaku Mask of Suiko-o (Drunken Persian King)

Gigaku Mask of Suiko-o (Drunken Persian King)
Asuka–Nara period, 7th–8th century
Tokyo National Museum (Horyuji Treasures, Important Cultural Property)
(On exhibit from October 14 to November 4, 2019)
 

 

Persian-style Lacquered Ewer

Persian-style Lacquered Ewer
Tang dynasty (China) or Nara period, 8th century
Shosoin (The Shosoin Treasures)
(On exhibit from November 6 to November 24, 2019)
 

 

Dragon-headed Ewer

Dragon-headed Ewer
Asuka period, 7th century
Tokyo National Museum (Horyuji Treasures, National Treasure)
(On exhibit from November 6 to November 24, 2019)
 

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  Chapter 6: Protecting Our Precious Treasures

The Shosoin Repository has protected its valuable treasures for over 1,260 years. However, objects like lacquerware and textiles are very fragile and subject to decay, so their survival to the present day is not merely due to luck. While being looked after in ways appropriate to each era, they have been carefully passed down under the guardianship of the Imperial Court. As such, they hold a hugely-significant place in the cultural history of the world.
The repository and its treasures were inspected and repaired on numerous occasions from the Heian period (794–1192) onwards, with these activities systemized entering the Meiji period (1868–1912). Chapter 6 looks at research and conservation work carried out from the Edo period (1603–1868) to the present day. With a focus on the production of restorative copies, it also examines the importance of passing on the treasures to future generations.
 

The Restoration of the Shosoin Treasures
 
The Restoration of the Shosoin Treasures
 
The Restoration of the Shosoin Treasures
By Inagaki Ranho
Dated 1889
Tokyo National Museum
 

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General Information

Period October 14–November 24, 2019
Venue Heiseikan, Tokyo National Museum (Ueno Park)
Hours 9:30–17:00; Fridays, Saturdays, November 3, and November 4: until 21:00
(Last entry 30 minutes before closing)
Closed Mondays (Except for October 14 and November 4) and November 5
Admission Adults: 1700 (1500/1400) yen
University students: 1100 (900/800) yen
High school students: 700 (500/400) yen
Junior high school students and under: Free 
* Prices shown in parentheses indicate advance and group (more than 20 persons) discount tickets.
* Persons with disabilities are admitted free with one accompanying person each (please present an ID at the ticket booth).
*

Advance tickets will be on sale at the museum ticket booths (during museum opening hours excluding the last 30 minutes) and other major ticketing agencies from July 19, 2019 to October 13, 2019.

* Tickets to this exhibition include one admission to the regular exhibitions on the date of entry.
Access 10 minutes' walk from JR Ueno Station (Park exit) and Uguisudani Station
15 minutes' walk from Keisei Ueno Station, Tokyo Metro Ueno Station and Tokyo Metro Nezu Station
Organizers Tokyo National Museum, The Yomiuri Shimbun, NHK, and NHK Promotions Inc.
With the Sponsorship of Iwatani Corporation., Daiwa House Industry Co., Ltd., TOPPAN PRINTING CO., LTD., and Maruichi Steel Tube Ltd.
Catalog, Audio guide The exhibition catalog (2,700 yen) is available at the Heiseikan Special Exhibition Shop and at the museum shop in Honkan (Japanese Gallery). Audio guide (Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean) is available for 560 yen.
General Inquiries 03-5777-8600  (Hello Dial)
Exhibition Website https://artexhibition.jp/shosoin-tokyo2019/outline-en/

 

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FY2019 Japan Cultural Expo Project Presented and Co-presented by Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan, and Japan Arts Council