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Art Meets History at Sannomaru Shozokan

Explore treasures once owned by the Imperial Family

Japan is home to a myriad of museums packed with historical artifacts, and one of Tokyo's best is the Museum of the Imperial Collections, Sannomaru Shozokan. The venue reopened in November 2023 after construction was completed, and it houses a huge array of treasures that had once made up part of the Imperial Family's collection.

Explore Japan's rich artistic heritage

The types of treasures on display at the museum are diverse, including everything from paintings and calligraphy to ceramics, lacquerware, and even textiles. Some of the items have been designated as National Treasures of Japan, such as the Chinese Lions piece by Kano Eitoku which dates back to the Momoyama Period of the 16th century.

Chinese Lions (right screen). Kano Eitoku. Momoyama period, 16th century. National Treasure
Chinese Lions (right screen). Kano Eitoku. Momoyama period, 16th century. National Treasure

Following the passing of Emperor Showa in 1989, the Imperial Family donated numerous artworks to Japan, and in 1993 the Museum of the Imperial Collections was established to safeguard and showcase these invaluable treasures to the public. Over time, the museum's collection has grown thanks to additional donations from Prince Chichibu, Empress Kojun, Prince Takamatsu, and Prince Mikasa.

Given the delicate nature of many pieces crafted from materials such as wood, paper, or silk, being on permanent display would greatly increase the risk of damage. To ensure the art remains unharmed, the museum presents most pieces to the public for a limited timeframe only.

Sarashina Diary. Fujiwara no Sadaie. Kamakura period, 13th century. National Treasure
Sarashina Diary. Fujiwara no Sadaie. Kamakura period, 13th century. National Treasure

A rare opportunity to experience never-before seen artworks

More than 6100 pieces make up the museum's collection, and many of those works that have not yet been exhibited–excitingly, there are likely to be more of these works to be exhibited in the future. This means that visitors can appreciate true once-in-a-lifetime exhibitions, or plan repeat visits that contain entirely different content from previous ones.

Journey through history via the museum's collection

The treasures of Sannomaru Shozokan tell a tale spanning millennia, divided into three distinct chapters. The first contains pieces from before 1868, including gems dating all the way back to the 4th century BCE. A majority of items from this collection are from the Edo period (1603-1867), while the country was under Tokugawa shogunate rule.

With the Meiji Restoration in 1868, a new era dawned. Eager to embrace modernity, the Imperial Family commissioned numerous artworks reflecting the nation's transformation. As Japan emerged from over two centuries of isolation, foreign powers brought diplomacy gifts, weaving a thread of international artistry into the post-1868 sections. Each category paints a picture not just of artistic evolution, but of Japan's historical journey.

A location that fuses old and new

The museum sits on the grounds of the Imperial Palace, and manages to combine the best of old and new. The renovated building draws inspiration from the palace's design, with traditional aesthetics like diamond patterns adorning the walls and decorative rainwater chains on the exterior.

The reopening of the Sannomaru Shozokan means that visitors can enjoy and appreciate the same pieces that captivated Japanese royalty for generations.

Please note that advance tickets are required. More information on securing your timed-ticket can be found on the museum website (in English) here.

To learn more about the museum and upcoming exhibitions, check out https://shozokan.nich.go.jp/en/

*All works in this article are the national property of Japan, housed in the Museum of the Imperial Collections, Sannomaru Shozokan.

Getting there

The museum can be accessed in 5 minutes on foot from Otemachi Station, which is served by the Tokyo Metro's Tozai Line, Marunouchi Line, Hanzōmon Line, and Chiyoda Line, plus the Toei Mita Line. The closest exit is c13a.

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