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Inside Nezu Art Museum: Authentic Japanese Garden in the Heart of Tokyo, an Oasis of Omotesando

Inside Nezu Art Museum: Authentic Japanese Garden in the Heart of Tokyo, an Oasis of Omotesando

Date published: 14 April 2020
Last updated: 27 May 2020

Nezu Art Museum is located near Omotesando Station in Minato Ward, Tokyo. Here you can enjoy eastern antique artworks which were collected by Kaichirou Nezu (1860-1940), a railroad baron and philanthropist. This is one of the few art museums in Japan which opened before World War II.

Here we will introduce the appeal of Nezu Art Museum, not only its exhibitions but also its popular original goods and café where you can enjoy a fantastic view of this authentic Japanese garden in the center of the city.

Inside the museum, the atmosphere is relaxed with a harmony of eastern Japanese beauty.

The bamboo building makes people nostalgic and think about its history

The bamboo building makes people nostalgic and think about its history
When you look back at the main gate of the entrance of art museum, you can view the remarkable bamboo passages.

Walk along Miyuki Street for 8 minutes after you go out of the A5 exit of Omotesando Station on the Chiyoda Line, Hanzomon Line, and Ginza Line.

You can see luxurious bamboo hedges across the junction. You might be surprised to see bamboo hedges in the center of the city. Cross the street to go into art museum’s main gate.

The big roof reminds visitors of Japanese style homes with a modern appearance that is impressive.

This is a large building which has 2 stories above ground and 2 below with an open feeling, because of the use of glass in the building.

The exhibition hall had its renewal opening in 2009. The renovations were done to give the appearance of Nezu’s home when the museum was first opened. The original structure was burned by airstrike. The art survived and was put on display temporarily at a barracks that survived the fires in 1946. Reconstruction of the building began in 1954 with the new exhibition hall created in 1991.

The renovations for the renewal began in 2006, with the exhibition hall completed 2009. Kengo Kuma a big name among Japanese architects designed it and it is highly revered at home and abroad as an exquisite architectural work of harmony with both a modern and old Japanese atmosphere.

A large collection of eastern fine art

A large collection of eastern fine art
Buddhist art are exhibited along the Japanese garden

Pay the admission fee at the reception desk near the entrance to enter the hall. Rays of light shine through the big glass windows that makes the room both bright and broad. Ten statues of Buddha are displayed along the windows and walls.

This entrance is the only path to enter the exhibition in the museum. Unlike other exhibition rooms, pictures are allowed, so many people take commemorative photos here.

The ceiling is made of bamboo.

Many exhibitions were made in China between the sixth to eighth centuries. One of the most popular works is the Miroku-bosatsu-ritsuzou statue which was made in the Gandhara region: currently an area of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is influenced by Greek and Roman cultures with a noble face, that could even be considered as handsome today.

This statue has a strong face with deep eyes

The attraction of Buddhist art will be exhibited in the entrance and exhibition room 3 for a long period of time. The Jizou-bosatsu-ritsuzou statue is currently displayed in exhibition room 3. One of these statues is important cultural property of Japan made in 1147: the third year of the Kyuan era in Heian period.

Pictures are not allowed there, but this time we were granted special permission to take pictures.

On the right is the important cultural property Miroku-bosatsu-ritsuzou statue.

It has a solemn atmosphere in the room, with a gentle smiling face of Miroku-bosatsu that is calming. Delicate details such as creases on the clothes and plump cheeks, allows viewers to gather an impression of the sculptor’s feeling.

In the main exhibition room on the first floor, special exhibitions are held two or three times a year, planned exhibitions are four or five times. Themed exhibitions are also held on the second floor of the exhibition hall. Tickets allow for full access to see all exhibitions in the museum.

The national treasure Kakitsubata-zu-byobu is located in the right wing. It is exhibited for four weeks during the season when the iris flower blooms (Kakitsubata) which starts from the middle of April.

There are over 7,400 items on display such as pictures, tea-related items, lacquer works, and metal works. There are 7 national treasures, 87 important cultural properties, and 94 art treasures including Kakitsubata-zu-byobu made by Kohrin Ogata in December 2018. This is one of the greatest antique art museums in Japan in both quantity and quality.

To protect the delicate and antique art, it is important to hold various themed exhibitions and change exhibits regularly. This way many people can also get a chance to see many art works.

Bronzeware of the ancient China exhibition are held in exhibition room 4. Some antique mirrors are also displayed based on seasons.

In the special exhibition, you can see famous works that belong to other museums. In the themed exhibition, you can enjoy many great works selected from the numerous art items for their selected theme. A wide range of exhibitions are held with such genres as tea cups and wares, Buddhist art, pictures, Chinaware, etc. Please check the exhibition schedule on the website.

Usually, museums are made from personal collections and tend to be inclined to a particular field. Here, however, you can find abundant and various collections of Kaichirou Nezu said to be “Nezu-no-waniguchi” which means the “wide mouth of Nezu,” and is used in a figurative sense for the wide range of genres in his collection.

Forget about daily life in this authentic Japanese garden and enjoy walking in tranquility

Forget about daily life in this authentic Japanese garden and enjoy walking in tranquility
You can see stone Buddha statues and stone pagoda everywhere in the garden.

Another attractive part of the Nezu Museum is the authentic Japanese garden which is hard to believe is in the center of the city. Once you step inside, you can get a seasonal scenery of rich nature in front of you. Fresh air as if in the forest makes you forget that you are in Tokyo.

The garden goes lower as you head toward the pond in the center. This bowl like style makes it feel it has a greater depth than it actually has. The path in the garden winds like a snake, which allows visitors to enjoy the view of the garden in different directions and also creates a more spacious feel.

The gardener is the third generation of the family that originally took care of the garden for Nezu Museum since before World War II. In addition, the gardener's skills and hospitality can be seen throughout the museum.

“Kounin-tei buji-an,” One of the tea rooms in the garden. Which is a traditional tea room in Japan built at the end of the Meiji period.

There are great must-see places in the Nezu Museum called the “Top 8 views of Nezu Museum (hakkei).” You can take pictures in the garden, so be sure to go there to take photogenic pictures!

One of the top eight views is “Fukiage-no-izutsu”which means low stone fence covering a well. There is an entrance named “Teien-guhi,”and when you go to the garden and go down the path. You will see a square stone fence in the center of the big pond.

A square stone object on the lower light is Izutsu, the fence around the well

Water from the pond emerges from this well and is the origin of its name “Fukiage.” The surrounding area is full of trees that has fantastic scenery as if visiting an old town in the mountains.

As you go around the pond to the left, you'll see a torii gate. This is Tenjin no Hibaishi, considered the second-best view around the garden. The name 'Hibaishi' is written with the Kanji characters for 'flying' and 'plum blossom', and derives from the legend of a plum tree which came flying in the air and took root here.

“Tenjin-no-hibaishi” a small shrine that is part of the Michizane Sugawara ('Totou-tenjin')

This small shrine has a quaint atmosphere where many students preparing for an exam often visit as it embodies Michizane Sugawara who is famous as the Shinto deity of scholarship. Many pencils and pens were offered under the stone statue at the time of our visit.

It is surprising that a museum is a place where you can go to get energy.

Following the road, there is a historic building. It’s a Buddhist temple called “Yakushi-dou,” where the Buddha of healing is enclosed. Moso bamboo grows around the temple. It’s called “Bamboo of Yakusi-dou” and is one of the top 8 views.

The pyramidal roof is called “Hogyo-zukuri” in Japanese.

It is a quiet space where you can hear the bamboo leaves rustling in front of the “Yakushido” that has a mysterious old city feeling as if you were back in the Heian period.

There is Sui-Kin-Kutsu, a water harp cave which serves to provide the strange sound of water near “Yakushi-dou.”

Turn back and go along the broad walking path to see the stone statues standing from a distance. The fourth of top 8 views is Mt. Potalaka, which has many stone Buddha statues and stone pagodas. “Kannon-bodhisattva,” which is over 3m, is the most famous of them all.

“Kannon-bodhisattva” in Mt. Potalaka is astonishingly large.

Mt. Potalaka sounds like a cute name in Japanese, but the name actually comes from the legendary place where “Kannon-bodhisattva” lives. There are many stone Buddha statues big and small, that gives this spot a unique and exotic atmosphere.

Vivid red leaves are glowing “Maple Trees by Hisaibashi”, available from the end of November to the beginning of December

Another one of the top 8 views is “Maple Trees by Hisaibashi” where green leaves in early summer and autumn leaves are beautiful, and “Irises at the Konin-Tei” where irises bloom during Golden Week. “Kakitsubata-zu-byobu”, a national treasure, is exhibited when the irises bloom.

We recommend going to see both of these beauties. “Kakitsubata-zu-byobu” will be displayed in the special exhibition “Kakitsubata-zu by Korin Ogata, celebrating paintings of the Edo period” which is held from Saturday, April 13th to Sunday, May 12th.

“Irises at the Konin-tei” are at their best in Early summer, from the middle of April to the middle of May.

Please ask clerks in the museum for the best viewing times.

There are stone statues and roofing tiles which have the family emblem of Nezu. Be sure to look for them while you visit.

There is one of the top 8 views around the main entrance. It is the “Moon-shaped stone boat,” which is a stone lantern and a tsukubai, a stone wash basin, which was used in Nezu’s house.

Seeing the light of the crescent-shaped stone lantern in the moonlight is quite romantic as well.

The “Moon-shaped stone boat” is left of the main entrance.

After walking in the garden, have a break in NEZUCAFÉ!

After walking in the garden, have a break in NEZUCAFÉ!
The ceiling is made of material like Japanese paper. The durability and appearance are noticeable on first sight.

NEZUCAFÉ is a comfortable and bright café with sunlight shining through the large windows. A counter faces the garden and is especially popular for people to come and drink coffee alone while they relax.

Shortcake, the standard café menu is the most popular. It looks luxurious with its rich white cream and two beautiful strawberries. This mild cream is not too sweet and goes well with the light and fine sponge. Sour-sweet strawberries bring out the flavor and texture.

Shortcake, 600 yen and Nezu blend coffee, 650 yen

Nicoise-style salad with bread (1,000 yen) and meat pie & salad (800 yen) are also popular dishes.

Try their lunch option that uses seasonal ingredients with “Today’s pasta, (1,000 yen)” or “Today’s Hamburg steak with bread, (1,350 yen)” You can spend your time in luxury watching rich nature that makes it hard to believe you are in the city center.

Their meat pie is baked until crisp in the café’s kitchen. Home-made meat filling is especially delicious and is a specialty product.

The museum shop is filled with charm!

The museum shop is filled with charm!
The shop is by the museum entrance. Bamboo is used for Interior design.

After enjoying the highlights of museum, go to the Museum shop. It is jammed packed with original goods such as exhibition catalogs and postcards for standard products, umbrellas designed using garden and museum item motifs, bags, tableware, and Japanese paper tape.

Popular original goods are gauze handkerchief (all colors 800 yen), iris letter paper (400 yen), postcards (100 yen), calico pouch (3,800 yen), “Seizan-ryokusui , All the seasons of Nezu Museum” photo book (1,000 yen).

“All the seasons of Nezu Museum,” is a popular photo book which includes pictures of the museums items and all the seasons of the garden, published in 2018.

Photographer Yuji Hori took pictures only to be used in this photo book, with Japanese poetry written in each picture for all the seasons. This gift would make a great present not only for yourself but for your family and friends.

Front cover of “Seizan-tyokusui, All the seasons of Nezu Museum”, (upper left) and each facing page including pictures of the garden and museum items, (upper right and lower).

We went out the front gate of Nezu Museum with a feeling of well-being, there was the view of the city as usual. Being confused I looked back, with green bamboo rustling in the wind it made me feel as if time passed so differently in this place. We will come back here again when searching to be healed through silence, oriental art, and a green Japanese garden.

The Nezu Art Museum is the best place for who those who are busy everyday and want to enjoy a special time in their trip. We invite you to visit if you live in a noisy and boisterous large city and want to forget daily life.

Photographed by Daisuke Yanagi

  • Nezu Museum
    • Address 6-5-1, Minamiaoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 107-0062
      View Map
    • Nearest Station Omotesando Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line / Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line / Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line)
      10 minutes on foot
    • Phone Number 03-3400-2536
*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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