Set in beautiful grounds that were dripping with cherry blossom, the Tokyo National Museum is a sprawling mass of culture. It boasts a collection of around 116,000 objects including 88 National Treasures and 634 Important Cultural Properties (as of March 2017). The regular galleries display 3,000 of these works at any one time . . . a formula for cultural overload and happy museum exhaustion.
Whereas National Museums in the UK tend to act as repositories for world cultures, the Tokyo National Museum highlights the beauty of Japanese and Asian material culture. You could spend at least a day wandering the vast halls gazing at treasures. There is an audio guide available to give extra information, but even without it many of the information panels are multi-lingual. Some galleries allow photography, others don’t, but confusingly the camera rules did not seem to be upheld too strictly.
I could swoon about the collection for days, but instead there was something that I found more striking. The museum does not just present objects, it also had examples of recent conservation projects displayed in a thematic exhibition room. The objects were on display alongside images of them pre conservation in order to present the detailed and skilled work that had been done to preserve these objects for future generations. The Tokyo National Museum does not just collect and display, it also preserves and restores and proudly presents this.
There was also a room dedicated to conservation and restoration, displaying tools and presenting techniques. It also had a section on preventative conservation. It’s a pretty unsexy subject that is barely ever presented and displayed to visitors, but they have taken the bold decision to show it. The information was basic but understandable, with related items key to presentative conservation displayed; like a moth trap, relative humidity reader and acid free containers.
Everyone knows museums look after objects, but it is refreshing to see some transparency as to how objects are cared for, what tools are used and why.
Tokyo National Museum had a 620 yen (£4.50) entrance fee, which was well worth it. You can get an audio guide or download an e-Museum guide to your own device.