Tokyo National Museum Garden: Springtime with traditional Japanese architecture

The cherry blossom is in fully bloom. The sun is shining. Yes, spring is well and truly here. The Tokyo National Museum in Ueno is celebrating this most special season in Japan by allowing visitors the chance to visit the museum garden (you can also see the grounds during the autumn). Given that we have been thinking a lot about Japanese houses and architecture recently for PingBooks Vol.1 The Japanese Home, we didn’t want to miss this chance to experience an old garden.

The first site we visited was a building called Shunsoro. This teahouse was constructed as a resting hut during flood control improvements at Yodogawa River in Osaka during the Edo era. It was then moved to Osaka, Yokohama, Saitama, and then finally to here in Tokyo in 1959. Since its origin is as a place for resting, the design is less a classical teahouse than something more plain and charming.

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Our next stop was Tengoan, a teahouse from Kyoto that was first built in order to show off a ceramic tea vessel known as Odaimyo. The latter is also on display at the museum so this spring you can enjoy both teahouse and its original exhibit.


tokyo-national-museum-garden-springtime-with-traditional-japanese-architecture04Tree bark was used for the outer walls, almost as if it is rejecting the idea that a building has to be “manmade”.

tokyo-national-museum-garden-springtime-with-traditional-japanese-architecture05From the front you can see the pond and cherry blossom.

tokyo-national-museum-garden-springtime-with-traditional-japanese-architecture06And then this is how the teahouse looks from the opposite bank of the pond.

The teahouse Rokusoan has been moved to the museum’s garden from Nara. It features six windows and the inside is divided into two parts — a waiting room and the tea room — making this very functionally-minded architecture indeed.

tokyo-national-museum-garden-springtime-with-traditional-japanese-architecture07Simplicity at its best. The teahouse is merely the stage for what happens inside.

tokyo-national-museum-garden-springtime-with-traditional-japanese-architecture08One of Rokusoan’s famous windows. Each of the six has a different shape.


tokyo-national-museum-garden-springtime-with-traditional-japanese-architecture03Any visitor first passes through the waiting room. Actually, it could hardly be called a room; it is composed simply of a roof and bench.

Okyokan was built in Aichi Prefecture and moved to its present location in 1933. Inside there are paintings by Maruyama Okyo but unfortunately you are not able to enter and see them. However, just the outside of this exquisite temple building in enough of a work of art.

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Kujokan was originally inside the Imperial Palace (Gosho) in Kyoto and has stood here in Ueno since 1934. On the sliding doors and paper panels there are Chinese landscape paintings in the Kano school style. But rather than being divided by sliding doors and screens, the design is very flat and open, making you feel like you are both inside and out at the same time.

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tokyo-national-museum-garden-springtime-with-traditional-japanese-architecture14The floor is raised very high. There is not exterior wall, with the separation between indoors and outdoors being performed only by the height of the structure. This is a distinctly Japanese approach to architecture.


Has your appetite for architecture been whetted? Then it’s time to head out of the museum to Ueno Park to enjoy a few drinks under the cherry blossom! After all, what better contrast could there be after a tour of high-class traditional architecture?

tokyo-national-museum-garden-springtime-with-traditional-japanese-architecture16Even a weekday sees the park packed with drinkers — sorry, we mean cherry blossom viewers!


tokyo-national-museum-garden-springtime-with-traditional-japanese-architecture18A different kind of architecture but still impressive in its own way. Here a table has been made out of cardboard. Note the attention to detail — including even hand wipes and ashtrays!