After a full day excursion of historical temples and natural scenery in Nikko, we decided to spend the next day to explore another neighborhood in Tokyo. We started the day at the southwest area of Sumida District (墨田区), near the metro station of Ryogoku (両国). Many tourists come to Ryogoku (両国) for sumo (相撲): visit sumo stables to view professional practice, or checked out chanko nabe restaurants for a sumo meal, or even watch a game of sumo wrestling at Ryogoku Kokugikan (Ryogoku Sumo Hall). We, however, came to the area for museum hopping.
Opened in 2016, the Sumida Hokusai Museum is being considered as a novel cultural icon of Sumida. Designed by Kazuyo Sejima (妹島 和世), the sleek architecture houses exhibitions to showcase the life and works of the world famous ukiyo-e (浮世絵) artist Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎). With his Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (富嶽三十六景), Hokusai is definitely the most iconic figure of ukiyo-e (浮世絵) in the Edo Period (1603 – 1868). Kazuyo Sejima (妹島 和世), the founder of SANAA and a recipient of the Pritzker Prize in architecture with Ryue Nishizawa, is also a generation defining Japanese architect in her own right. From the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, New Museum in New York, Rolex Learning Centre in Lausanne, to Louvre Lens Museum in France, Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA have inspired uncounted architects and designers around the world in the last two decades.
The Midoricho Park (緑町公園) where Sumida Hokusai Museum is erected, is also the birthplace of Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎).
Sejima’s building immediately became a cultural icon in the rather low key residential neighborhood. The building provides an interesting backdrop for the community play area of Midoricho Park.
The building scale and the facade’s level of reflectiveness express a certain degree of novelty without creating an overwhelming impact to the surrounding context.
The cave like slit at each of the four sides provides a prominent entrance gateway at each side.
The reflectivity of the museum’s metal cladding is right on.
Everything on the facade is clean and minimal.
We walked to the main entrance via one of the triangular opening on the facade.
The facets of the glass panes and the reflections of the outside offer a unique entrance experience.
The detailing of the triangular opening is once again clean and minimal.
The angular aspects of the architecture is carried through into the interior.
The washroom on the ground floor is a cute little cube at the lobby.
Beside Sejima’ architecture, the works of Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎) were well worth the admission.
The exhibition space is not big. Most of his paintings are hung along the wall. Artifacts such as books and sketches.
The most famous works by Kazuyo Sejima is Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (富嶽三十六景 Fugaku Sanjūroku-kei). A selection of the 36 prints had been put on display.
The Great Wave off Kanagawa is perhaps the most well known image by Katsushika Hokusai.
Some of the final works by Katsushika Hokusai are also on display.
A wax display depicting the studio of Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎) and his daughter back in the Edo Period.
Outside of the exhibition area, there is a seating area with great views towards the Sky Tree.
On the second day, we decided to stay close to the area around Shibuya. We hopped on the Yamanote Line and went one stop over to Ebisu (恵比寿). Known as the God of Fishermen and Luck, Ebisu is a popular divinity in Japanese mythology. It was then used by Japan Beer Brewery Company to come up with the brand of Yebisu Beer back in 1890. Established their production facilities near Meguro, Yebisu Beer is one of the oldest beer brand in Japan. In the modern era, the train station and the surrounding community was named after the brewery as Ebisu. In 1988, the beer brewery were moved to a new location. The original brewery site at Ebisu was then transformed into a commercial complex consisted of office towers, retail, and museums known as the Yebisu Garden Place. The Western architectural style create a unique atmosphere, attracting young couples and the local community to dine, shop and relax.
Many tourists go to Yebisu Garden Place to visit the Museum of Yebisu Beer. We came specifically to visit Tokyo Photographic Art Museum (TOP Museum). Opened in 1995, the museum is known as the only public museum in Japan dedicated to photography. The museum has recently gone through two years of extensive renovations. Three wall display of world famous photographs marked the museum entrance at the end of a colonnade. Three exhibitions were on and we opted to see them all. The first one was “20 Year Anniversary TOP Collection: Scrolling Through Heisei Part 1”, a selection of works taken by Japanese photographers during the present Heisei era (平成). The second was Museum Bhavan by Dayanita Singh, a renowned female photographer who captures the various faces and colours of the magnificently complicated Indian society. The third was World Press Photo 17, the annual award event to compliment a selection of works by the world’s photojournalists in the past year.
The Yebisu Garden Place offers a lot of pleasant public spaces for the community of Ebisu.
Two traditional red brick buildings mark the entrance plaza of Yebisu Garden Place.
Many people arrived at Yebisu Garden Place about the same time as we did, probably going to work.
We arrived at Yebisu Garden Place in the morning at around 9am. We had breakfast at one of the cafe near the entrance of Yebisu Garden Place.
The interior of the cafe was causal and sleek.
Across from the cafe, the Yebisu Beer Museum offers visitors a glimpse of the history of Japanese beer. While a Mitsukoshi department store occupies the opposite side of the entrance square.
A barrel vault atrium and a gentle ramp frame the central axis of Yebisu Garden Place, with the Chateau Restaurant Joël Robuchon at the terminus.
We then walked under the canopy to the airy Central Square.
The design of Yebisu Garden Place is dominated by classical layout and axial arrangement.
Classical architectural elements include the colonnades that appear in a number of locations in the complex.
At the Central Square, there were benches painted with playful patterns that marked the 20th anniversary of the complex.
Yebisu Garden Place is frequented with locals. We saw a few who came dressed in traditional garments.
The Chateau Restaurant Joël Robuchon is a famous luxurious venue in the area of Ebisu.
Our main reason coming to Yebisu Garden Place was the TOP Museum (Tokyo Photographic Art Museum), formerly known as the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography.
The entrance colonnade of the TOP Museum offers visitors a pleasant approach.
Shōji Ueda (植田正治)’s Sand Dune and My Wife III (妻のいる砂丘風景III) , an iconic Robert Capa’s D-Day shots, and Robert Doisneau’s Le baiser de l’hotel de ville (Kiss by the Hotel de Ville) provide a dramatic setting for the museum entrance.
We stayed at the museum for about two hours, seeing three exhibitions including “20 Year Anniversary TOP Collection: Scrolling Through Heisei Part 1”, Dayanita Singh’s Museum Bhavan, and World Press Photo 17. The TOP Museum is a fantastic cultural institution for anyone who love photography. It offers temporary exhibitions on four levels of museum spaces.
Completed in 1959, the National Museum of Western Art is the only building in the Far East designed by modernist architectural maestro Le Corbusier. In 2016, the museum building has been inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage along with 16 other Le Corbusier’s works such as Villa Savoye, Unite d’habitation Marseille, Notre-Dame-Haut de Ronchamp, Chandigarh Capitol Complex, etc. We came for the modernist architecture, although many paintings and sculptures on display by world renowned artists were quite interesting too.
Precast concrete panels were used as the main cladding material for the museum.
We were greeted at the front entrance by Émile-Antoine Bourdelle’s Hercules the archer. Bourdelle was an influential French sculptor in late 19th and early 20th century.
The Thinker at Tokyo National Museum of Western Art was made after the death of Auguste Rodin.
The lobby atrium of the museum was a pleasant surprise. The high volume of the space and the trunk-like columns drew our attention to the unique skylight above.
A skylight consisted of multiple triangles provides an interesting design feature to the space, and also magnificent indirect lighting.
An architectural model provides a sectional view of the atrium and shows the exterior form of the skylight feature.
At one side of the atrium, a zigzag ramp led all visitors to the main exhibition on the upper level.
On the upper deck, we could get a clear view of the lobby atrium with its statues.
Again, the concept of bringing indirect sunlight into the interior was the clear intent from Le Corbusier. The glazing bulkhead above the paintings provided the main source of ambient light.
The collection of the museum ranges from Renaissance to the modern ages.
The glazing feature brings in indirect sunlight, but it also creates a long bulkhead along one side of the exhibition hall.
Some of the paintings and statues were interesting, but our focus was always on the architecture itself.
At the museum courtyard, we could see the various facade cladding materials used at different periods of expansion.
At the forecourt, another zigzag ramp supposedly leads visitors to the lower courtyard. Now the entire area, including the exterior ramp, is closed off.
After the National Museum of Western Art, we thought we had enough dosage of art and history for the day. We were quite tired due to the red-eye flight. We decided to check out another piece of architectural gem in Tokyo, Kenzo Tange’s St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sekiguchi.
After the magnificent lunch bento at Innsyoutei, we followed the main path further into Ueno Park to reach the museum clusters. Here one can find the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, National Museum of Nature and Science, National Museum of Wester Art, as well as the largest of them all, the Tokyo National Museum. Established in 1872, the Tokyo National Museum (東京国立博物館) is the oldest and largest Japanese museum. We didn’t plan to see everything. We were a little tired from the flight, so we took it easy to explore the museum complex.
The Tokyo National Museum is consisted of several buildings: Honkan, Toyokan, Heiseikan, Hyokeikan, etc. We started with Honkan, the main museum hall. This present Honkan was designed by Watanabe Jin. The building was completed in 1938 to replace its predecessor designed by British architect Josiah Conder. The former building was severely damaged in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.
There are two main levels in the Honkan. We walked up the grand staircase to the upper level to begin our visit.
Beautiful amours of samurai and shogunate were some of the most impressive artefacts in the museum.
The “Fujin and Raijin”or the Wind and Thunder God by Ogata Korin reminded us our visit to Kyoto’s Kenninji Temple (建仁寺), the original location of the screen. At Kenninji, we saw a replica of the famous screen.
The Yaksha Generals (12 Heavenly Generals) is one of the most impressive display in the historical sculpture collection.
Architectural drawings by British architects from the 19th century reveal the popularity of Western culture in Japan during the Meiji Period.
Historical photograph of a Japanese samurai taken in 1862.
At Honkan, there is a room opens to the garden behind the museum. The room is decorated with exquisite mosaic and plastered motifs.
A traditional telephone matches well with the historical decor.
A garden of traditional pavilion and reflective pool provided some fresh air during our museum visit. Unfortunately the pavilion was inaccessible from the museum.
Apart from sculptures, paintings and photographs, historical textiles and garments also provided us a glimpse of the old Japan.
The museum shop at Honkan is beautiful designed. A gentle passageway ramps up to the upper mezzanine. Along the ramp stands a low wall of book display.
After Honkan, we walked to the adjacent Toyokan Building. Toyokan houses a few levels of artifacts and artworks from Asia and the Middle East.
The Chinese and Korean exhibits reveal the close linkage between the cultures of the Far East.
The Toyokan also contains some interesting pieces from Egypt and the Near East. After visiting Honkan and Toyokan, we had a little more understanding on the heritage of Japan, and felt it was time to check out the other museums in Ueno Park. So we exited the Tokyo National Museum, passed by a gigantic model of a blue whale in front of the National Museum of Nature and Science and headed towards the National Museum of Western Art.
In a November evening in 2012, we attended an architectural lecture at University of Toronto by Ryue Nishizawa (西沢立衛), one of the two principals of the world acclaimed architectural firm SANAA. In that lecture, he talked about several of his projects, including his recent projects (back then), the minimal Louvre Gallery in Lens of France and the sculptural teardrop of Teshima Art Museum (豊島美術館). At about the same time, he also finished an art gallery in Karuizawa, famous for the undulating gallery floor that resembles the natural terrain and the curvilinear glass enclosure of landscaped lightwells. Hiroshi Senju Museum of Karuizawa (軽井沢千住博美術館) was the main reason for our Karuizawa day trip out of Tokyo. Hiroshi Senju (千住博) is a Japanese painting known for his large scale waterfall paintings. He was the first Asian artist to receive a Honorable Mention at the Venice Biennale in 1995. Admiring Hiroshi Senju’s landscape paintings in Ryue Nishizawa’s landscape inspired architecture is like seeing art in a minimalist manmade forest in Karuizawa.
The museum is located out of the tourist area of Karuizawa. After getting off at the nearest bus stop, we walked a bit along a country road to reach the museum. A unique white sign greeted us at the museum forecourt.
Before seeing the white and minimalist main museum building, we passe by another interesting piece of architecture, the panel cladded visitor centre.
From the parking lot, a winding pathway led us to the entrance of the main museum building.
We entered the main exhibition space through the transparent entrance vestibule. From outside, it was impossible to imagine what surprises lie ahead in front of us.
Once inside, we were immediately captivated by the harmonious relationship between art, architecture and nature.
Walking on the gently sloping floor of the museum as if strolling on the pre-existing natural terrain of the site. Even the seating matches the curvilinear forested lightwells inside the exhibition space.
Curvilinear glass enclosure of various sizes create a number of naturalistic lightwells or miniature forests.
Walking between two lightwells felt like wandering through two art installations in a forest.
Other than the paintings by Hiroshi Senju, the lightwells of the building were definitely unique art pieces for me.
Back at the main parking lot, the sleek and dark visitor centre expresses a totally different tone.
While the main museum is all about its nature-inspired interior, the visitor centre contrastingly tells a form-driven design story.
Back from the Han Yang Ling Mausoleum, we continued our historical journey at the provincial history museum of Shaanxi. There was a long queue at the gate for people to collect the free admission tickets (4000 daily). We skipped the wait by buying a ticket to the special exhibition of “Treasures of Great Tang Dynasty”, which we wouldn’t want to miss anyway. We entered the museum building which was designed to mimic the traditional architecture of the Tang Dynasty.
We started our visit with the special exhibition of Tang treasures unearthed from Hejia Village (何家村) of Xian. Known as the Hejia Village Hoard (何家村唐代窖藏), the 1000+ treasures ranged from gold and silver wares, coins, jade items, agate wares, crystals, etc. These treasures were carefully stored in clay pots roughly 65cm tall, hidden underground sometime after AD 732 during the An–Shi Rebellion (安史之亂) when Tang China was engulfed in a nasty civil war. As the east terminus of the Silk Road, the treasures of Changan (now Xian) revealed the degree of cultural exchanges in the Chinese capital during Tang, when goldsmiths and silversmiths from Central Asia such as the Sassanian Empire (now Iraq and Iran) came to Changan and brought with them the world’s most advanced metal crafting skills. The treasures from the hoard were mainly made domestically with a mixture of techniques and styles from both within China and other places along the Silk Road. It was an impressive collection and indeed, a very fortunate case for Chinese archaeology that these items could survive the Cultural Revolution when the collection was first unearthed.
We then moved on to the museum’s permanent collections. We quickly walked through the prehistoric exhibits, and focused on the bronze items from the Shang Dynasty 商朝 (1600-1046 BC) and Zhou Dynasty 周朝 (1046-256 BC), Terracotta Warriors of the Qin Dynasty 秦朝 (221-206 BC), treasures of the Han Dynasty 漢朝 (206 BC- AD 290), and more artefacts from the Tang Dynasty 唐朝 (AD 618-907). In this post we have included selected photos of the magnificent artefacts from the Shaanxi History Museum.
The Main exhibition hall of Shaanxi History Museum was inspired by Tang architecture.
Small gold dragons (赤金走龍), Hejia Village Hoard.
Gilt Silver Plate with Double Foxes in Shape of Double Peaches (鎏金雙狐紋雙桃形銀盤), Hejia Village Hoard, is inspired by Persian influences in style and technique, combined local references of good fortune: peaches and foxes (foxes and a few other animals were also considered a reference to good fortune in Tang China).
Gilt Silver Plate with Phoneix (鎏金鳳鳥紋六曲銀盤), Hejia Village Hoard
Silver Vessel in Form of Nomadic Leather Flask Depicting a Dancing Horse (舞馬銜杯仿皮囊式銀壺), Hejia Village Hoard. Another piece of silver ware reflected the influences from the nomadic tribes of Central Asia.
Gold Bowl with Design of Lotus and Mandarin Ducks (鴛鴦蓮瓣紋金碗), Hejia Village Hoard. A golden bowl for wine.
Agate Cup with Beast Head (獸首瑪瑙杯), Hejia Village Hoard. A rare piece of Tang treasure with influences from Persia.
Bronze blades and masks for rituals, Late Shang Dynasty (13th-11th Century BC)
Bronze Bianzhong (編鐘) of Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC), an ancient music instrument.
Terracotta Warriors of First Qin Emperor, Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC).
The Kneeling Archer, Terracotta Warriors of the First Qin Emperor, Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC).
Gilded Incense Burner, Han Dynasty (206 BC- AD 290), depicting a fantasy mountain supported by dragons. The incense smoke would leak from the gaps like mountain mist.
Oil Lamp depicting a goose with a fish in its mouth, Han Dyansty (206 BC- AD 290). The smoke from burning the oil would go through the goose’s neck to its body, which was filled with water.
Gilded Bronze Dragon with iron core, Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).
Tri-coloured Watermelon, Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).
Terracotta figure of Lady, Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). A selection of these terracotta figures revealed the impressive hair, makeup and fashion styles of the Tang Dynasty, which changed every few years.
Terracotta figure of Lady, Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).
Terracotta figures of the Chinese Zodiac, Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).
Funeral Procession of the Prince Qinjian from the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368–1644).
Our posts on 2016 Xian and Jiuzhaigou:
DAY 1 – NIGHT ARRIVAL, Xian, China
DAY 2 – QIN EMPEROR’S TERRACOTTA ARMY, near Xian, China
DAY 2 – BIG WILD GOOSE PAGODA (大雁塔), Xian, China
DAY 3 – HAN YANG LING MAUSOLEUM, Xian, China
DAY 3 – SHAANXI HISTORY MUSEUM, Xian, China
DAY 3 – GREAT MOSQUE (西安大清真寺) AND MUSLIM QUARTER, Xian, China
DAY 3 – MING CITY WALL, Xian, China
DAY 4 -FIRST GLIMPSE OF JIUZHAIGOU (九寨溝), Sichuan (四川), China
DAY 5 – ARROW BAMBOO LAKE (箭竹海), PANDA LAKE (熊貓海) & FIVE FLOWER LAKE (五花海), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 5 – PEARL SHOAL FALLS (珍珠灘瀑布), MIRROR LAKE (鏡海) & NUORILANG FALLS (諾日朗瀑布), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 5 – LONG LAKE (長海) & FIVE COLOURS LAKE (五彩池), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 5 – RHINOCEROS LAKE (犀牛海), TIGER LAKE (老虎海) & SHUZHENG VILLAGE (樹正寨), Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝), China
DAY 6 – ASCEND TO FIVE COLOUR POND (五彩池), Huanglong (黃龍), Sichuan (四川), China
DAY 7 – FAREWELL JIUZHAIGOU & XIAN, China