The National Museum of Western Art
The Gate of Hell via Ueno.
Samurai armor, calligraphy, and Japanese textiles aren’t the only thing to be found in museums in Japan. The National Museum of Western Art in Ueno has a killer collection of mainly European art including that of French sculptor Auguste Rodin.
Gaze into the void as you stand before “The Gate of Hell” or get philosophical under the watchful eyes of “The Thinker.” These are two of Rodin’s most well-known sculptures that greet visitors in the forecourt. If you’re looking for something closer to a conventional European or American style museum, this is definitely the spot for you.
Of the six museums in Ueno Park, The National Museum of Western Art is the newest opening in 1959. The museum’s main building, “Le Corbusier”, was recognized as a Unesco World Heritage Site for its “outstanding architectural work” in 2016. Beyond the statue garden and intricate architecture lies a story of post-war relations between Japan and France.
A French Museum in Tokyo
The permanent exhibition area of the museum has a wide variety of paintings, sketches and other forms of expressive art, ranging from 14th century Gothic and Renaissance right up to 20th Century post-war modern art. Mainly though, the museum is the home of the Matsukata Collection, featuring works by Monet and Van Gogh among others.
Kojiro Matsukata was a prominent artist, politician and philanthropist in the early 1900s. Having studied in both the US and Europe prior to World War II, much of Matsukata’s collection was held in Paris after the war ended because they were considered as “enemy property.” The around 400 paintings, sculptures, and tapestries were returned to Japan in 1959 on the condition that Japan build a French art museum in the nation’s capital city.
The museum gives off classic French and European vibes, creating a unique atmosphere that can’t be found elsewhere in Tokyo.