Intermediatheque, Tokyo

If I’d left my heart in Tokyo, it wouldn’t have been down by the river (don’t you know) . . . it would have been here.

When I was making my original ‘list of things to see’ Intermediatheque didn’t feature. The name only popped up because we were at a loose end in the Tokyo station area and it was raining a torrent so heavy that it was frankly shocking. For once I was truly thankful for such horrific weather while on holiday, because this place . . . this place is what my museum would look like (if I won the lottery).


Its rooms take up 2 floors in a rather pristine, posh, polished building which is mostly filled with designer shops and cafes; not your usual museum hideout. It is run jointly by Japan Post and the University Museum, University of Tokyo – which means it has a pretty epic collection, spanning three centuries of collecting.

There is no defined route of viewing, objects are not necessarily arranged in chronology or classification. Its director sees it as an innovative and experimental museum, questioning society about new curatorial methods and activities through projects such as digital, mobile and school museums. He asks things like, ‘Can visitors satisfy their inherent curiosity by simply walking along a predetermined visitor route?’ . . . frankly, I like his style.

My one major frustration . . . no photos were permitted. Signs explained that this was to allow a connection to develop between the visitor and the objects; “doesn’t help me write a blog that actually SHOWS people how awesome it is here though does it”, I huffed. So I’ll have to just tell you in POWERFUL WORDS some of my favourite bits.

But how to best describe it? It was kind of like a large opened out curiosity cabinet, but one that wasn’t crammed to the brim, instead it was beautifully curated by a steam-punk artist with access to a bold Victorian colour palette that included more colours than the typical rich reds, purples and obligatory black.

In the galleries there were original dark wood cases; in England I would refer to these as being Edwardian in style, but here in Japan I would go for Imperial. Sometimes the cases didn’t have glass, they were just the frame, which gave the clever illusion of ‘don’t touch’ but actually the physical barriers were not there.

The text labels were small and discrete and often pasted to the wall near the objects, but this meant that you could wander in wonder eyeballing this incredibly eclectic mixture of items, but if something did catch your eye then you could find out extra information about it. From the framed x-rayed hand of a giant, to a taxidermy cockerel that had 14ft tail feathers that had grown continuously its entire life and were beautifully preserved and mounted in its death.

Upstairs was one of the best ontological displays / storage solutions that I have seen. They have basically encased a store in glass. The low lighting within the store helps to preserve its feathered specimens, many of which peer outwards to the visitor who is stood in the light corridor. It’s like having an open store, but without opening it. I imagine that, because there isn’t an actual viewing window and the visitors actually have to look through the display to see the room beyond, it would make anyone actually working in that space feel a lot less like they are some kind of zoo exhibit.

The environment is created for aesthetic appreciation. There’s nothing digital, because it is considered that this would be a distraction from the objects. It exudes an air of calm, dignified, beautiful elegance. And I loved it.

Intermediatheque leaflets

It’s also free, and has free bag storage, so if you get chance go and see it – it was truly a hidden highlight I wasn’t expecting.


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