Discover the Soul of Japan at Tokyo National Museum

For those of us in Japan who want to understand and view key pieces of Japanese history in Tokyo, there is no place better than the Japanese national museum. Housed in Ueno, this museum is a masterpiece housing legendary artifacts and serene gardens. If you only have time for one museum in Tokyo, this is the museum for you. The area around the museum is also home to other must-see museums such as the science or western art museum. It is also home to the Ueno zoo which houses one of the most protected animals on earth, the Panda. For more information on Ueno zoo, please refer to our article linked here. But, what makes the national museum a must visit for foreigners? In this article we will examine 7 reasons why you need to visit Japan’s national museum.

The museum itself is historical

The Tokyo National Museum is one of the oldest and biggest of Japan’s first-class museums. It was originally established in 1872 and moved to its current site as its collection grew. The current museum is built upon an ancient edo residence with many original structures such as the edo period gate still standing. At present it represents the largest collection of art and archeological artifacts in the country which brings us to our second point.

The museum houses the largest and most high quality artifacts throughout Japan. 

The museum is responsible for over 100,000 individual items including over 100 national treasures. At any point the museum showcases 4000 of these artifacts from its inventory in order to prioritize the preservation of these items. Moreover, all artifacts have descriptions in English as well as Japanese, which makes the experience a lot easier. Guide books are also available in a plethora of other languages such as German, French and Chinese.

It provides numerous special exhibitions

Like many countries in the world, the Japanese national museum participates in exchanges of artifacts where foreign artifacts make a special appearance in the museum for an additional price. When I went, it was about a specific Chinese dynasty which was very interesting. It was made more interesting through the use of Virtual Reality which allowed you to visualize the dynasty as if you were really there. This made it an unforgettable experience and justified the extra 500 yen.

It isn’t just one museum

It is a museum complex which houses six separate buildings, each capable of claiming the museum title on its own. These museums all differ on the topics they show and are all remarkable in their own right. The main exhibition within the Honkan building tends to exhibit the highlights. The Hyokeikan is the oldest building in the museum with the building itself being an artifact, at current it is used for temporary exhibitions. The Toyokan building features asian artifacts in galleries originating from throughout asia. The Heiseikan building represents ancient Japanese cultures as well as certain special exhibitions such as the virtual reality one mentioned above. The Kuroda memorial Hall on the other hand is a modern building housing the paintings of its namesake. Finally, the Horyuji Homotsukan is a gallery of religious artifacts, many of which are national treasures.

The Japanese Garden

The japanese garden behind the Honkan is open to the public and houses many tea houses which can be used for tea ceremonies or other events. The Garden itself is very serene and peaceful making it an essential part of the experience. Strolling through the gardens and gazing at the beautiful architecture of the building makes it an experience in its own right and should not be missed.


For many of us foreigners, Samurai indicate a awe-inspiring period of Japanese history with these warriors cementing themselves as an icon representing Japan before the modern era. Many exhibits within the Honkan feature real swords, bows, spears and armor from samurai throughout history. Samurai armor in particular is a spectacle featuring beautiful lavish designs that fulfill all expectations. Historically, some of the swords here are of legend and should not be missed at any costs. These swords have witnessed such important and key events throughout history making it a true privilege to be able to see the real things in person, still as sharp as ever.


There are few things in Tokyo that will express Japanese culture throughout history like the national museum. In this museum you will see how Japan evolved throughout the ages to become the culture we love today. You will be able to see what those people wore, what they lived with, what they had in their house and of course, what they died with. This is true for both times of great serenity and peace, as much as it is for chaos and war. Seeing this in person emphasizes more than any book could, making it a must see for people who truly want to understand Japanese history and culture.

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