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.
After leaving our luggage at the hotel, we took the Ginza Line Metro to Asakusa (浅草) to purchase the limited express train tickets for our upcoming Nikko day trip in two days’ time. Then we decided to begin the day with some leisure time at Ueno Park and its museums after our red-eye flight. With lush greenery, old trees, historical shrines and several museums, Ueno Park is a good place for a pleasant stroll. From online research, we came across a beautiful restaurant called Innsyoutei (韻松亭). Housed in a century-old timber building in the heart of Ueno Park, Innsyoutei serves a causal version of Kyoto kaiseki cuisine made with seasonal ingredients. We decided to check it out before our museum hopping.
The original timber house of Innsyoutei was built in 1875. A little over a decade ago, the building underwent a major renovation. This rustic tea house has long been a landmark in Ueno Park, where visitors would stop for light refreshments. The renovation maintained the original building layout, but replaced much of the timber structure with materials savaged from other old buildings in Kyoto and Shiga Prefecture.
The traditional restaurant complex is full of the beauty of Zen.
Innosyoutei (韻松亭) literally means “rhythm of the pine pavilion”. This poetic restaurant remains popular with park visitors, especially during hanami (花見) season when the timber house is surrounded by clusters of cherry blossoms.
Once entered the vestibule, we were immediately greeted by the fragrance of the incense.
We took off our shoes at the vestibule, and were led to the dining hall on the upper level.
The wooden stair is accompanied by a beautiful railing made of bamboo.
Covered with tatami floor mat, the dining hall was well lit with natural light coming from the large windows at both ends of the room. Sitting on zabuton (floor cushions), guests gathered at low tables on the tatami to enjoy their Hana-kago-zen (flower basket meal).
Outside the large window, we could see lush green everywhere.
It was not hard to imagine the beauty of the space during cherry blossoms when the lush green would be replaced with clusters of pink flowers.
We sat down at a low table and ordered our lunch sets with much anticipation.
The appetizers soon arrived. We were immediately impressed by the presentation and the taste of food.
We ordered two different set meals of seasonal fish and vegetables. The food was beautifully arranged and presented like two flower baskets with eye-catching colours. The dishes were made of various vegetables skillfully prepared to bring out the distinct flavors and textures of the ingredients.
Tofu, eggplant, beans, and mushroom might sound simple. Yet when they were individually prepared with different flavours of sweetness, sourness and saltiness, and were tasted in a certain order of sequence, the experience would become much more complex and sophisticated. Sometimes, we might not be able to tell what the actual ingredient was just by the look, and would get a pleasant surprise after the first bite. Every of our bite became an opportunity for a pleasant surprise, and was full of anticipation.
A cup of creamy yogurt-like custard beautifully served.
The meal finished with the traditional delight, a mochi (rice cake) kind of dessert wrapped in a leaf.
We unwrapped the leaf with high anticipation and were rewarded with a perfect gift to end the wonderful meal.