The Best Things to See at Tokyo National Museum in Ueno: full of old & important arts!

Tokyo National Museum in Ueno has an excellent collection of Japanese and East Asian arts. Cool, unique, important and very old (some are from the past of thousands years ago!) arts are waiting for us. It is quite natural that such a museum becomes a popular tourist spot.

Tokyo National Museum

On this post, I’ll show you Must-Sees at the museum and some travel tips!

(Sometimes the museum changes the permanent exhibition on display, but we see other important arts in this case.)

Part 1: Arts on Japanese History Textbooks

Everyone sees them on History textbooks at elementary and junior high school in Japan. You’ll meet genuine ones there. Not just photos nor replicas!

A Dogu (Clay Figurine) called “Shakkouki-Dogu”

1000-400 BC

A Dogu

This kind of figurines were made 3000 – 6000 years ago, especially in North East Japan. Among those remaining today, this Dogu is so well-designed that it appears on textbooks.

Nobody knows exactly for what purpose ancient people made Dogus, but the influential idea is that they are goddess sculptures to wish rich harvest and generation.

Deep Bowl with Flame-like Ornamentation

3000 – 2000 BC

An ancient bowl

Ancient people made some earthenware for their daily lives and festivals. Again this fantastic design makes this particular bowl very famous.

Wind God and Thunder God

by Korin Ogata, 18th Century

Wind God and Thunder God

Wind God and Thunder God are often paired in Japan. A good example is that they are at the gate of Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. The right is Wind God and the left is Thunder God. There are Wind Gods in other cultures such as Greek myths, and these are the Japanese style.

Korin Ogata is famous for this kind of paintings. (Students must memorize his name for Japanese History exams!)

Part 2: Romantic Adventure to Ancient Times

A Haniwa (Terracotta figure for tombs – right)

6th Century

Deep Jar with Spout (middle)

4000 – 3000 BC

A Dotaku (Bell-shaped bronze – left)

1st – 3rd Century

A haniwa, jar and dotaku

Ancient royal people made BIG tombs (as big as a hill!!) and placed Haniwas around. Talking about Dotaku, it is a model of a Pokemon.

Mysterious, aren’t they? We can get souvenir Haniwas at the Museum Shop.

GENUINE Japanese Sword

11th Century

A Japanese sword

“Japanese sword” reminds us of samurais. Of course it is totally true, but swords had an aspect as arts (and sometimes charms.) There are some great swords in this museum and I see some international visitors are excited to see them!

Part 3: Indigenous Cultures in Japan

Many cultures have been living in Japan. Sometimes a foolish politician says, “only one ethnic group lives in Japan, so…” but it is completely wrong. In the long history, many cultures have mixed up to become Japan of today.

Ainu Bowl and Cup Stand, Iku-pasui  (conveyor of wine and prayer to gods), Inau (ritual items)

19th Century

Ainu bowl and cup stand

Beautiful, aren’t they?

Ainu is indigenous people in Hokkaido, Northern part of Japan. There are Ainu language and its unique culture with some similarities to Japan and East Asia.

I regret to say this but horrible things happened by the Japanese government in the past. However, people now understand how horrible that history is and even feel Ainu culture is so cool.

Ainu Coat

19th Century

Ainu coat

The museum sometimes displays arts of Ryukyu Kingdom (today’s Okinawa, the southern island) instead of Ainu arts.

Okinawa also has cool, unique, beautiful cultures. It is popular as a resort island with beautiful beaches. You’ll enjoy and learn a lot if you add Okinawa on your travel schedule.

Part 4: Travel Tips of Tokyo National Museum from a Local

Many people miss its balcony. There is a big back door in the ground floor of the building. I think people just pass beside it because they think it is closed, but… it’s open.

It’s a quiet balcony of stone and you’ll explore the view of a Japanese garden and the building itself.

The Japanese garden of Tokyo National Museum

If some days in spring and autumn, you can take a walk around the garden from outside. In autumn, this garden is extremely beautiful with red and yellow leaves!

Tokyo National Museum has several buildings. Do you know that this Hyokei-kan and Heisei-kan have lounges on the ground floor to take a rest?

It’s great when your legs get a bit tired!

Thank you very much for reading and hope you have a good day there!

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Tokyo National Museum Visitor Information

620 yen for Adult

Opening Hours 9:30 – 17:00

Closed on Monday (if Monday is a public holiday, open on Monday and closed on Tuesday), 28 Dec – 1 Jan

Access from major stations in Tokyo

Link to Official Website


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