Nara National Museum (奈良国立博物館)

Nara National Museum is a museum in Noborioji-cho, Nara City, Nara Prefecture operated by an Independent Administrative Institution, National Institutes for Cultural Heritage.

As the main activities, the museum has been conducting promotional activities through lecture presentations and publications, etc., as well as collecting, preserving, studying and exhibiting cultural properties centered on Buddhist art. As the exhibition facilities, there are Original Museum Building, Annex attached to the Original Museum Building, East Wing, West Wing and Lower Level Passageway. Of the facilities, the Original Museum Building was completed in 1894 after the design of a court architect, Tokuma KATAYAMA who had designed Akasaka Rikyu (the Guest House in Akasaka), etc., and has been designated an important cultural property as a representative example of western-style architecture of the Meiji period. The exhibits include many articles deposited with the museum by Shinto shrines, temples and people centered in Nara Prefecture, as well as those possessed by the museum. The museum is also the site of 'Shosoin ten' (Exhibition of Shosoin Treasures) held every autumn.

Buddhist Art Library and Research Center newly built in 1980 has been preparing, collecting, organizing and preserving materials related to Buddhist art, which are opened to the public only on every Wednesday and Friday. It is the former Nara Prefecture Products Display Center (important cultural property) completed in 1902 after the design of Tadashi SEKINO that has belonged to Nara National Museum since 1983.


The museum opened as Imperial Museum of Nara in 1895. We can not overlook the existence of Nara Exhibition as a history prior to the inauguration of the museum. In 1874, Nara Exhibition Company, which was operated jointly by public and private sectors, was established by the Kenrei (governor) of Nara Prefecture at that time, Chihiro FUJII and the people around him. The first Nara Exhibition held in the next year, 1875 exhibited calligraphic works and paintings, antique wears, specimens of animals and plants and machinery, etc. displayed by Shinto shrines, temples and people, including Shosoin treasures, using Daibutsu-den Hall (the Great Buddha hall) of Todai-ji Temple and corridors around the hall as the site. It is understood from the records those days that the exhibition was enthusiastically received with totally 170,000 visitors during a period of 80 days of the exhibition. Thereafter, the Nara Exhibition was held every year, excluding 1877, and was held as much as 15 times in total by 1890.

Those days, there already was a museum under the jurisdiction of the Imperial Household Ministry (the predecessor of the Tokyo National Museum) in Ueno in Tokyo, however, in 1889, it was determined by the notification of the Imperial Household Minister that the name of the museum in Tokyo would be renamed to the 'Imperial Museum,' and that an imperial museum would also be established in Kyoto and Nara respectively. In this way, the construction of the museum started at the current location in the former premises of Kofuku-ji Temple from 1892, and the Original Museum Building was completed in 1894 and opened in the next year, 1895. The name of the museum was renamed to the Imperial Household Museum of Nara in 1900. This name was used until 1947.

In 1947, along with the promulgation of the new constitution, the museum came under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education, and became Nara Branch Museum of the National Museum.
It is in 1952 when the name of the museum was renamed to Nara National Museum
The jurisdiction was transferred to the Commission for Protection of Cultural Properties in 1950, and to the Agency for cultural affairs in 1968, and the museum became an Independent Administrative Institution National Museum in 2001, and in 2007, became a museum to be established by an Independent Administrative Institution, National Institutes for Cultural Heritage.

During that period, New Wing was completed in 1972 after the design of Junzo YOSHIMURA, and the Shosoin ten came to be held in the New Wing. In addition, the Original Museum Building was connected with the New Wing through an underground passage. In 1997, East Wing was completed also after the design of Junzo YOSHIMURA, and the existing New Wing was renamed to West Wing. Both Wings have created a harmonic landscape by adopting a unified design. Along with this, the entrance of the Wings' side was changed to the entrance hall newly constructed between the Wings, and the underground passage connecting with the Original Museum Building was also changed to newly constructed 'Lower Level Passageway,' which has become a free zone equipped with a museum shop, cafe lounge, toilets, brief exhibition panels and exhibitions such as, structure of Buddha statues and commentary of mudras, etc. In 2002, a space for exhibiting a large amount of Chinese ancient bronze wares donated by Goro SAKAMOTO, the founder of an antique art shop 'Fugendo,' was established in the Annex attached to the Original Museum Building (originally a repository). Further, only the second floors of the both Wings have been used as exhibition rooms.

The Imperial Household Museum of Nara those days also appears in "Koji Junrei" (A Pilgrimage to Ancient Temples) written by Tetsuro WATSUJI (published in 1919). Those days, many famous works of art in art history, including the statue of Kudara Kannon of Horyu-ji Temple, statue of Asura (fighting demon) of Kofuku-ji Temple, etc. were deposited and exhibited in the museum. After World War II, reinforced concrete treasure houses and depositories were newly established one after another in Shinto shrines and temples in each region, and there have been an increasing number of cases where the Buddha statues, etc. which had been deposited in the museum would be returned to the original temples.

On December 18, 1922, Albert EINSTEIN visited the museum. A note to the effect that he had felt deeply impressed with Japanese art was written in his diary for that day.

List of national treasures
Concerning a list of all national treasures and important cultural properties, refer to another item, 'List of cultural properties possessed by Nara National Museum.'

The national treasures possessed by an Independent Administrative Institution, National Institutes for Cultural Heritage, and preserved in Nara National Museum are as follows.

Juichimen Kannon (Eleven-faced Kannon), color painting on silk (previously possessed by Kaoru INOUE, Takashi MASUDA)
Jigoku Zoshi (Hell Scrolls), color painting on paper
Hekija-e (Exorcist Scroll), color painting on paper
Sansui-zu (Suishoku ranko zu) (Hue of the Water, Light on the Peaks), monochrome ink and light-colored painting on paper, a painting attributed to Shubun
Wooden seated statue of Yakushi Nyorai (Healing Buddha), previously possessed by Wakaoji-jinja Shrine in Kyoto
Stylized Garlands, a To-ji Temple's ancestral property
Shishu Shaka Nyorai seppo-zu (Embroidery illustrating of Sakyamuni Preaching), previously possessed by Kaju-ji Temple in Kyoto
Sutra Box with Lotus Arabesques, previously possessed by Jingu-ji Temple in Fukui
Kongo Hannyakyo Kaidai Zankan (Segment of the Kongohannyakyo Sutra Commentary), written by Kobo Daishi (38 lines)
Golden Light of the Most Victorious Kings Sutra, gold lettering on purple paper, previously possessed by Saikoku-ji Temple in Hiroshima
Nihonshoki (Chronicles of Japan), Zankan (book partially missing) of volume 10 (Tanaka-bon [collection of Yutaka TANAKA])
Denkyo Daishi hitsu sekitoku (a letter written in Chinese) on December 25, 813

Main deposited articles
Shoren-in Temple, Fudo Myoo Nidoji-zo (Fudo Myoo and Two Boy Attendants) (Aofudo), color painting on silk (national treasure), Heian period
Kofuku-ji Temple, statue of Kinnara of dry lacquer statues of eight legions (national treasure), Nara period
Kofuku-ji Temple, statue of Mokukenren of dry lacquer statues of Ju Dai Deshi (Ten Great Disciples of the Buddha) (national treasure), Nara period
Kofuku-ji Temple, statue of Gyoga of the images of Hosso Rokuso (six high priests of the Hosso sect) (national treasure), Nara period
Todai-ji Temple, bronze standing statue of Shakyamuni's birth (national treasure), Nara period
Todai-ji Temple, seated wooden statue of Miroku Butsu (important cultural property), Heian period
Todai-ji Temple, wooden standing statue of Jizo Bosatsu (a work by Kaikei) (important cultural property), Kamakura period
Oka-dera Temple, dry lacquer seated statue of Gien Sojo (national treasure), Nara period
Gango-ji Temple, wooden standing statue of Yakushi Nyorai (national treasure), Heian period
Akishino-dera Temple, wooden (head, lacquered) standing statue of Bonten, standing statue of Gudatsu Bosatsu (important cultural properties), heads in Nara period, bodies in Kamakura period
Kono-ji Temple (Yamazoe-mura), bronze statue of Bosatsu (Bodhisattva) in half lotus position (important cultural property), Asuka to Nara period
Konryu-ji Temple, wooden standing statue of Bosatsu (important cultural property), Nara period
Taima-dera Temple, wooden seated statue of Amida Nyorai (important cultural property), Heian period
Chugu-ji Temple, Tenjukoku Shucho Mandara (national treasure), Asuka period

Exhibition facilities

Original Museum Building (designed by Tokuma KATAYAMA, completed in 1894, important cultural property)
Annex attached to the Original Museum Building (an exhibition room for Sakamoto Collection, completed in 1937)
West Wing (designed by Junzo YOSHIMURA, completed in 1972) - BCS (Building Contractors Society) Prize (1974)
East Wing (designed by Junzo YOSHIMURA, completed in 1997) – Ranked among the Top 100 Public Buildings (1998)
Lower Level Passageway (completed in 1997)

Other facilities

Buddhist Art Library and Research Center (former Nara Prefecture Products Display Center) (designed by Tadashi SEKINO, completed in 1902, important cultural property)
Conservation Center for Cultural Properties
Hassoan Tea House – A tea house which used to be in Kofuku-ji Temple Daijo-in Garden. It was moved in 1892. It is also called Gansuitei, and is said to be to Shigenari FURUTA's taste. It places a seat of yonjo daime (four and three-quarters tatami mats size of room in teahouse) as the main room, and has an appearance like a country house, built in a Irimoya-zukuri (building with a half-hipped roof) style, having a thatched roof and kakerabuki (shingling) eaves hung in the front.


About 15-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station of the Kintetsu Nara Line
Close to the bus stop, 'Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan Mae' of the City Loop Bus

[Original Japanese]