Kyoto National Museum

April 17, 2004

by UEDA Noriko; ONISHI Atsue; SHIMIZU Madoka

Kyoto National Museum


The Kyoto National Museum was established for restoration and conservation of works of art in 1897. This museum contains Japanese and Oriental works of art and archaeological artifacts. This museum attempts to teach Japanese people and people from other countries about Japanese and Oriental art and culture by exhibiting, researching, and educating. To protect the works of art, they change exhibits regularly in this museum, so you can enjoy different works of art whenever you visit. Moreover, this museum’s exhibits are not replicas but the authentic objects unlike other museums which use some replicas. In the Kyoto National Museum, you can enjoy viewing the valuably authentic objects more than other museums.

The Permanent Exhibition

Archaeology (Rooms 1-2)
A Long, Long Time Ago

In these rooms, you will see artifacts that were excavated from different parts of Japan; most of them were made between 16,000 B.C. and the 7th century A.D. We are impressed because there are objects that we have seen only in our school textbooks. You will enjoy looking at interestingly shaped earthenware, ancient clay figures, and ancient bronze mirrors. They tell us a little about ancient Japanese life, so it may be interesting to visualize the ancient time

Copyright 2001, Kyoto National Museum. Kyoto, Japan

Ceramics –Pottery and Porcelain (Rooms 3-4)
Imagine what you would like to do

You can see Japanese, Chinese, and Korean ceramics here. If you have some knowledge about them, they are very interesting because there are many Important Cultural Properties and National Treasures. Even if you don’t, you can enjoy these exhibits. For example, when you look at the Burial Figure of a Woman Holding a Pekinese, what do you think? You may not think she is beautiful, but she was thought very beautiful in her day. Also, there are dishes and teacups. You don’t need to know a lot about them but just need to use your imagination. What kind of food suits this dish? How would you feel if you drank café au lait from this cup? After that, how about visiting some markets like Tenjin-san (held at Kitano Tenman-gu on the 25th of every month) and Kobo-san (held at Toji on the 21st of every month)? You will be able to find similar dishes and cups.

Copyright 2001, Kyoto National Museum. Kyoto, Japan

Sculpture (Rooms 5-7)
Which hands are Kannon’s real hands?

You can find many Buddhist images in this section. The most interesting one is the Senju kannon (Thousand-armed Kannon). You may be surprised by those Buddhist images when you face them.
This particular Buddhist image has 2 types; one type has 1,000 hands, and the other has 40 hands. The Buddhist image with 40 hands grants your wish immediately, but the one with 1,000 hands grants your wish in the past, in the present, and in the future.

Each of the 40 hands holds something, for example a palace, a pair of beads, an arrow, a bow, a cloud, a seashell, and a grape.

The reason why these Buddhist images have many hands is to show this deity’s abilities and functions. Then which hands are Kannon’s real hands? Kannon’s real hands are another pair of hands, which are joined together before Kannon.

Copyright 2001, Kyoto National Museum. Kyoto, Japan

Paintings (Rooms 8-12)
Why are so many of them scrolls?

You will see hanging scrolls, picture scrolls, and folding screens which were painted from the late 16th to the 19th century. The subjects are various, such as landscapes, figures, Buddhist images, and scenes from stories. The paintings themselves are, of course, interesting, as are the mountings. They are also important parts of the paintings, so please look carefully at the beautiful mountings as well.

Many Japanese paintings are scrolls. What are their advantages? One advantage is that a scroll isn’t bulky when you store it. Another reason is that rolled paper isn’t exposed as much to air and light. Eastern materials are much weaker than Western materials such as oil paintings, so that’s an important point. Another interesting point is that if you look at a picture scroll, it works like a comic strip because it moves from scene to scene. Although they are not put into frames, you will enjoy Japanese style paintings.

Copyright 2001, Kyoto National Museum. Kyoto, Japan

Calligraphy (Room 13)
Beauty of Characters

In this room, you will see Japanese and Chinese calligraphy which include sutras, archives, and other documents. Many of them were written beautifully and carefully, so you can enjoy them visually. There are many styles of calligraphy, so even if you cannot read them, they will probably be interesting to you. I recommend that you look at the paper and seals as well. The writers chose the paper carefully to match the content. The seals are very interesting because they are often original and particular.

Copyright 2001, Kyoto National Museum. Kyoto, Japan

Textiles (Room 14)
Small cloth has big meaning

This room displays kimono and cloth. Being easily damaged, they are a little bit dirty, but their nice colors and unique patterns which modern clothes don’t have make them brilliant. By the way, have you ever seen kimono hung? If yes, you will notice that kimonos here are smaller than you know. Maybe that’s because people living in early times were smaller than we are now. And, if no, how about going to see modern kimono? To compare is a good way to know them well.

Also, in this room, there are samples of cloth. When craftsmen thought of a new pattern or color combination, they wove small samples first. These trial products are interesting too because many of them are curious and exotic.

Copyright 2001, Kyoto National Museum. Kyoto, Japan

Lacquer ware (Room 15)
How beautiful they are even now!

Do you know Japanese lacquer? It is a way of coating containers like cups and boxes. It is used for valuable things. Lacquerware is very hard, strong, and glossy; especially the ware called makie is beautiful. You can see examples in this room. Makie is used to put gold and silver powder on goods. It was a very difficult process, so there was a special family of artisans who handed down the technique in the Edo era. When you visit this room, you will recognize shells embedded in boxes. The shell decorations seemed to be gorgeous; the Spanish and Portuguese liked them very much.
Copyright 2001, Kyoto National Museum. Kyoto, Japan

Metalwork (Room 16)
Getting to the Samurai spirit

There are tea kettles, Buddhist altar fittings, and mirrors in this section. In addition, you can also find Japanese swords. Japanese swords were, of course, weapons to kill people, but now they are also works of art to enjoy because of their beauty and the technique used in making them.
When you look at Japanese swords, you will notice that they still glitter even though they are old and are made with metal. One difference between Japanese and Western swords is the way they are used in battle. Japanese swords are designed to slash, while Western swords are designed to stab.
In this section you can enjoy imagining Samurai using Japanese swords.

Copyright 2001, Kyoto National Museum. Kyoto, Japan

Outdoor Exhibit
Taking a walk and enjoying exhibits.

There are also many exhibits in the museum’s garden. The most noticeable one is “The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). This exhibit and the museum which is built of red bricks go well together. And you can also find the stone wall of Hoko temple, which was built by Hideyoshi Toyotomi (1536-1598). Near this stone wall, there are some cultural assets left unexcavated underground.

This garden is very large and beautiful because there are many seasonal trees and a beautiful fountain. In addition, the museum is lit up brightly in the evening.

Copyright 2001, Kyoto National Museum. Kyoto, Japan

Special Exhibitions

Special Exhibitions are held two or three times a year. Here are some which were held in recent years.

・ Kennin-ji: The Oldest Zen Temple in Kyoto
(April 23 – May 19, 2002)
・ The History and Aesthetics of Tea in Japan
(September 7 – October 14, 2002)
・ Treasures of a Sacred Mountain: Kukai and Mount Koya
The 1,200-Year Anniversary of Kukai’s Visit to Tang-Dynasty China
(April 15 – May 25, 2003)
・ Kazari in Gold
– Japanese Aesthetics Through Metal Work –
(October 11 – November 24, 2004)
・ Nanzenji
Treasures of a Great Zen Temple
Commemorating the 700th Memorial of Emperor Kameyama
(April 6 – May 16, 2004)
・ The Sacred World of Shinto Art in Kyoto
(August 10 – September 20, 2004)

Around the museum

・ Sanjusangen-do: There are many Senju-kannon.
・ Chishaku-in and Myoho-in: These are along Higashi-oji street and they are not so famous, but are good examples of Japanese temples.
・ Karafune-ya: This coffee shop is near the museum entrance. You can see the great garden that the museum has from here.
・ MacDonald’s: This is on Kawabata-Shichijo. Won’t you try Japanese MacDonald’s?


Via JR, Kintetsu Railway
Take City Bus 206 or 208 from the D2 bus stop to the “Hakubutsukan Sanjusangen-do mae” bus stop
Via Keihan Railway
Get off at Shichijo Station. Walk east along Shichijo Street to the Museum (about 7 min.)
Via Hankyu Railway
Get off at Kawaramachi Station. Walk east over the bridge to the Keihan Shijo Station. Take the Osaka-bound Keihan train to Shichijo Station. Walk east along Shichijo Street to the Museum (about 7 min.)



Regular (Tuesday to Sunday)——————-9:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Special Exhibition (Tuesday to Sunday)——9:30 a.m.-6:00 p.m.
(Friday)———————-9:30 a.m.-8:00 p.m.


(When Monday is a holiday, the museum is open, and the following Tuesday is a holiday.)
The end of the year and the New Year.


Adult: 420 yen
University/ High school student: 130 yen
Handicapped/ Over 70/ Junior high/ Elementary school student: free

Free admission days

Second and fourth Saturdays
September 15th (Respect for the Aged Day)

Official Home Page of Kyoto National Museum

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