History of Tokyo National Museum
7 Places to Visit at the Tokyo National Museum
Apps to Enhance your Visit to Tokyo National Museum
Events at Tokyo National Museum
Nearby Destinations (1) National Science Museum
Nearby Destinations (2) Ueno Zoo

The many museums in the Ueno neighborhood make it an area rich with art and history. Tokyo National Museum is located in Ueno, and is a particularly distinguished institute of its kind. Often referred to as “To-haku” (short for "Tokyo Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan"), this museum is the oldest in Japan, and currently houses over 110,000 exhibitions. Aside from its permanent collections, the Tokyo National Museum proudly presents special exhibitions and events to promote enthusiasm and interest for art and culture. Tokyo National Museum isn’t just home to artwork and artifacts; there are Japanese gardens and tearooms in the premises as well. Visit the Tokyo National Museum for an in-depth dive into Japanese history and culture.

【Related Article】
All about Ueno Park, in which Tokyo National Museum is located↓↓
Your 100% Guide to Ueno Park's Cherry Blossoms, Shrines & Museums

Tokyo < Ueno

Your 100% Guide to Ueno Park's Cherry Blossoms, Shrines & Museums In Ueno Park, just outside Tokyo's Ueno Station, you will find Ueno Zoo, several museums, and one of Tokyo's best cherry blossom spots. This article explores history and culture, as well as the seasonal sceneries of Tokyo's Ueno Park.

Parks & Playgrounds

History of Tokyo National Museum

The Meiji Period

On March 10th, 1872, the Japanese government held its first ever exposition at Yushima Seido in Tokyo, which is said to be the origin of Tokyo National Museum. For the exposition, over 600 imperial artifacts, specimens and taxidermies were gathered from around the country. The artifacts were presented in glass displays, which were new and rare at the time, and the exposition ultimately attracted over 150,000 visitors. Six months after the expo, Shojakukan, a precursor to Tokyo National Museum was built in the area. Shojakukan was built with the hopes that it would be a publicly accessible institute, housing historical books all over from Japan under one roof.

In The following year 1857, Shojakukan moved from Asakusa to the Uchiyama-shitamachi area (current Chiyoda ward), where another museum was being built. Shojakukan displayed items such as antique vessels, taxidermies and foreign objects, and successfully operated until closing its doors in 1881.

Between 1877 and 1903, the National Industrial Exposition was held every five years. This expo aimed to not only exhibit artifacts and goods, but also to show the booming Japanese industries and progressive Western technologies of the time.

The chosen venue for this expo was none other than Kaneiji Ueno Park (now known as Ueno Park). Machida Hisanari, later the first director of the Tokyo National Museum, saw this as a great opportunity to start planning Japan’s first museum. The expansive museum, including a zoo and a library, turned into a reality in 1882, with Emperor Meiji taking part in the entrance ceremony. Later, the museum was put under imperial possession, and renamed the Imperial Museum (帝国博物館), with an additional hall, Hyokeikan (表慶館) built to celebrate Emperor Taisho’s marriage.

The Taisho Period

The Great Kanto Earthquake struck in 1923, making most of the museum unusable with the exception of Hyokeikan. Fortunately, the exhibits did not receive much damage, and the Imperial Museum was able to re-open the following year, using Hyokeikan as its exhibit hall.

This display at Hyokeikan continued until the main museum building was fully reconstructed. In 1915, the museum's samples of animals, plants, and minerals were granted to the "Tokyo Museum" - wha t is now the National Museum of Nature and Science

The Showa Period to Present

The Imperial Museum was finally reconstructed and reopened in 1938, with new facilities showcasing Japanese and other Asian art pieces. With its rebranding as a history and art museum, the Imperial Museum succeeded in gaining its pre-quake popularity back. As World War II took place, most of the displayed items were moved to imperial estates nationwide, such as the Nara Imperial Museum, and the Imperial Museum had temporarily closed its doors. This allowed most of the items to remain undamaged, and after the war, the museum became national property and was renamed the Tokyo National Museum.
In 1999, a new hall, Heiseikan (平成館) was established in celebration of Emperor Heisei’s marriage. With continuous improvements and developments, the Tokyo National Museum is now one of the most iconic in Japan, with over 2 millions visitors annually.

Sights to See

1. The Main Building - Honkan

The first building in sight as you enter from the main gate is the Honkan (本館), or the main building.

Japanese Gallery: Honkan, Main entrance

The former Honkan (main building), designed and made in 1882 by the English architect Josiah Conder, was destroyed in the Great Kanto earthquake. The current Honkan was built in 1937 and designed by Watanabe Jin, and has a captivating symmetrical style that is explained as “oriental-imperial”.

Japanese Gallery: Honkan, Room 2

Its opening helped boost the popularity of the museum, as it was going through a hard time due to the stagnating economy and the social instability caused by the Manchurian Incident. Currently on the second floor of Honkan is historical Japanese art exhibit, “Highlights of Japanese Art”, with art from the Jomon era (ca. 14,000BC – 300BC) all the way to the Edo era (1603 – 1868). The first floor showcases various Japanese artifacts such as sculptures, potteries and lacquer works. Special exhibitions are held in Honkan as well.

2. Japanese Archeology & Special Exhibitions - Heiseikan

Heiseikan exterior

To the left of Honkan is the Heiseikan, which was built in 1999 to celebrate Emperor Heisei’s marriage. On the first floor, there are displays of archeological artifacts dating as far back as the Stone Age. Traditional clay figurines called doguu from the Jomon era and haniwa figurines from the Kofun era (250 – 538) are exhibited on the second floor. The second floor also stages special events, and has a lounge and drink area as well for a quick break.

3. The Asia Gallery - Toyokan

Toyokan appearance

Tokyo National Museum is unique in that they display non-Japanese artifacts as well. In the Toyokan, opened in 1952, various archaeological from other areas of the world, such as China, the Korean peninsula, Southeast Asia, India and Egypt, are displayed. Commonly called the “Asia Gallery”, the Toyokan is home to Buddha statues, clay pots and ancient cloths. In the “Oasis” area, visitors can inch closer to ancient culture, by touching replicas of the displays and experiencing ancient Asian fortune telling. Of course, the Japanese galleries are recommended at Tokyo National Museum, but the Asian Gallery too will provide a unique and sensational experience.

4. The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures - Horyuji Homotsukan

Horyuji Houmotsukan appearance

To the left of the main entrance is the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures (法隆寺宝物館). Here, there are artifacts and cultural properties brought from Horyuji Temple in Nara prefecture. The former gallery was built in 1964, but the exhibition was public for only one week, since the artifacts, dating as far back as the seventh century, were too old and fragile to continuously display.

The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures Room2(Photo by Sato Akira)

In 1999, the current gallery, designed by architect Taniguchi Yoshio, opened. The Gallery of Horyuji is highly acclaimed, exuding a classy and elegant aura.

5. Hyokeikan Hall

Exterior of the Hyokeikan at Tokyo National Museum

Hyokeikan was built in 1909 in honor of Emperor Taisho’s marriage. In its earlier days, mostly drawing and sculptures were displayed, while now Hyokeikan is only open for special events. With the exception of a few repairs, the original building still stands today. The aged, historic exterior of the domed structure is a magnificent sight.

6. Kuroda Memorial Hall

Kuroda Memorial Hall appearance

The Kuroda Memorial Hall (黒田記念館) is dedicated to Kuroda Seiki, who is often referred to as the father of Japanese modern art. In his will, he expressed wanting his estate and works to be used to promote Japanese art, which is why this gallery was made. More than 300 of his works are displayed, from sketches to oil paintings. The gallery is located across the road from Tokyo National Museum but does not require any additional fees.

7. Japanese Garden & Tea Rooms

The Japanese garden at Tokyo National Museum

Within Tokyo National Museum premises is an impressive Japanese garden. The surrounding area was once Kanei-ji temple’s property, and the garden and tearooms are remnants from those days. In the garden are six tearooms, a five-storied pagoda (Goju-no-to) and a memorial for Machida Hisanari, the founder of Tokyo National Museum.

The garden is open twice a year during spring (cherry blossom season) and autumn (koyo, autumn leaves season), for two weeks at a time. Entry is free of charge, and museum admission is not required to enter the garden.

Apps to Enhance your Visit to Tokyo National Museum

Tokyo National Museum provides 3 different navigation apps for its visitors. Each app has information on the museum's individual exhibits, as well as recommended routes through the museum. They are perfect for when you want a quick preview of what's on display, or want to look back on the things you saw. Each app can be easily downloaded from the home page, so be sure to take them with you!


This app uses an abundant of images and plentiful descriptions to help you grasp a clear idea of the exhibition.

The app not only Tokyo National Musuem, but also the Kyoto National Museum, Nara Naitonal museum, and Kyushu National Museum. The app has 5 language options, and can provide information in Japanese, English, French, Mandarin and Korean.

Tokyo National Museum: Horyuji Homotsukan 30-minute Navi

This app is specialized in introducing the 7 most prominent exhibitions in Horyuji Homotsukan, using a number of videos. Each video is about 2 minutes long, and can help you gain a deeper understanding of the exhibitions upon your visit. This app can provide information in English and Japanese.

To-haku Navi

This app guides you through its model courses of the regular exhibitions at Tokyo National Museum. A total of 6 courses are available, and each follows a different theme.

The app is filled with content such as exhibit introductions, a museum map, a stamp rally, and experience-based contents that let you enjoy the exhibitions from a number of angles. The app has an English and Japanese language mode.


Special and Thematic Exhibitions

Tokyo National Museum never fails to amaze with its variety and quality of displays at its special and thematic exhibitions. The themes are usually connected with Japanese or other Asian arts and cultures.

You can check the official website for the current special exhibitions, as well as the yearly exhibition schedule.

Gallery Talks

Experts and professionals come in two to five times a week to give visitors a more in-depth understanding of the exhibits. This event is reservation-free and anyone can join on the day of.

Volunteer Guide Tours

Museum tours in English are available from time to time. A volunteer guide will lead you through the museum exhibit and garden for about one hour. Reservations are not necessary, and the schedule is available online. The guides are free of charge.


Both Japanese and foreign visitors can participate in arts and crafts workshops held by researchers at Tokyo National Museum and volunteers. Participants can learn Japanese calligraphy, try on kimono and join in on quiz games. You can register for the workshops online or by mail.
*All of these events are held in Japanese


Exclusive concerts are held occasionally at Tokyo National Museum, usually at the Gallery of Horyuji Treasures or Heiseikan. This event is enjoyable for all visitors, both Japanese and from overseas. Some tickets will require an extra admission ticket while other will not (you can check here).


Nearest station:
・Ueno Station
(JR Lines JU02/JK30/JY05/JJ01, Tokyo Metro Ginza Line G16 and Hibiya Line H17, Keisei Main Line KS01)

From Shinjuku Station

【Shinjuku Sta.】JR Yamanote Line / for Ikebukuro
→【Ueno Sta.】about a 10-minute walk from the Ueno Park Exit

From Tokyo Station

【Tokyo Sta.】JR Yamanote Line / for Ikebukuro
→【Ueno Sta.】about a 10-minute walk from the Ueno Park Exit

From Narita Airport

【Narita Airport Sta.】Keisei Line / for Keisei Ueno
→【Keisei Ueno Sta.】about a 15-minute walk from the Main Exit

From Haneda Airport

【Haneda Airport Sta.】Tokyo Monorail / for Hamamatsucho
→【Hamamatsucho Sta.】JR Keihintohoku Line / for Tokyo
→【Ueno Sta.】about a 10-minute walk from the Ueno Park Exit

New discoveries are just around the corner at Tokyo National Museum!

How does it sound? Since the museum is extremely big, it is hard to get completely around in one day. So, it is recommended to search online what exhibitions and galleries you would be interested in before visiting the museum.

Also, every building has its own history, so simply taking a stroll around the premises would be a lot of fun as well! Whether you live in Japan or not, the Tokyo National Museum is a place filled with new discoveries and educational fun.

Nearby Destinations

National Science Museum

Built in 1877, the National Science Museum is Japan's only synthetic science museum. It has been loved by many for its long, deep history. The museum holds over 452,000 artifacts on display with the theme of mankind, nature, and scientific technology. Along with the various genres of exhibitions, the skeletal display of a dinosaur has been popular amongst visitors.

Ueno Zoo

Ueno Zoo is Japan's oldest operating zoo. Out of the many animal exhibitions, the Giant Panda exhibit has gotten an enormous amount of popularity. Aside from the pandas, the zoo nurtures endangered animals, small animals, amphibious reptiles, and more!

【Related Article】
Read more about Ueno Zoo↓↓
Ueno Zoo: Meet Pandas, Polar Bears & Capybaras at Tokyo's Oldest Zoo!

Tokyo < Ueno

Ueno Zoo: Meet Pandas, Polar Bears & Capybaras at Tokyo's Oldest Zoo! Ueno Zoo in Tokyo is the zoo with Japan's longest history and highest annual visitor count, most known for its giant pandas. This article introduces Ueno Zoo's history and 7 must-see animals!

Aquariums, Zoos, Botanical Gardens