Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum is a major contemporary art museum in Ueno Park with a rich and diverse schedule of special exhibitions and themed art shows. As an official institution of Tokyo Metropolis, the museum’s stated purpose is to promote art appreciation for the benefit of Tokyo residents. Several special exhibitions are held each year which feature major artworks and masterpieces gathered from museums and private collections in Japan and overseas.
The museum first opened as Tokyo Prefectural Art Museum in 1926 and was Japan’s very first public art museum. The original museum building however, was demolished in the 1970s. The current museum building was designed by the famous modernist architect Kunio Maekawa (1905 – 1986) and completed in 1975.
Because the museum is located in Ueno Park restrictions were placed on the building’s height in order to preserve the park scenery. As a result the museum has a low-lying structure of just 15 meters in height, and 60% of the museum is actually located in basement levels under the ground. Fans of contemporary Japanese architecture will be interested to know that this is not the only building in Ueno Park which was designed by Kunio Maekawa. He also designed the nearby Tokyo Bunka Kaikan and he assisted Le Corbusier with the design of the neighboring National Museum of Western Art.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum managed another historical achievement in 1976 when it opened Japan’s first public art library. However, in 1994 this public library and Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum’s permanent collection of art were both transferred to the new Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo in Kiba Park. From that time onward Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum has had a much reduced permanent collection and it mainly hosts special exhibitions and exhibitions by public art groups and associations.
The museum’s permanent collection now consists of just 12 contemporary sculptures which are dotted around the museum grounds, and 36 calligraphic works, some of which are on show and some of which are in storage. These calligraphic works are also sometimes shown in Collection Exhibitions which also feature artworks from other metropolitan museums in Tokyo.
This museum now hosts two main types of exhibition that often run concurrently in separate galleries. There are “Special Exhibitions” that focus on a particular theme or the work of a major artist and “Public Entry Exhibitions” which provide a chance for local or national art associations and groups to showcase their talents. Each year around 260 art groups exhibit works in 40 Public Entry Exhibitions in the categories of painting, sculpture, craft, and calligraphy.
The museum also hosts exhibitions of works by students of schools and universities and provides educational events such as lectures, workshops, and gallery talks. To see the current exhibition schedule please visit the official Tokyo Metropolitan Museum website.
The entrance to the museum is in the lower basement which you can reach via escalators. Here you will find an information desk where you can inquire about the latest exhibitions. There is a large museum shop directly behind the information desk, which stocks a wide range of art books, post cards, art reproductions, stationary, accessories, craft goods, and tools and supplies for painting, calligraphy and craft practitioners.
The museum also has extensive dining facilities with a café and restaurant on the 1st floor and another restaurant on the 2nd floor. Café Art on 1st floor is a relaxed space serving light meals such as pasta dishes and sandwiches, and desserts such as cakes and pancakes with tea, coffee, soft drinks, beer, and wine. Restaurant Salon on the 1st floor is a French restaurant with an extensive course and a la carte menu featuring steak, lobster, assorted desserts, and specially themed menus during special exhibitions. Restaurant Muse on the 2nd floor is a casual restaurant serving mainly Japanese style rice bowl and noodle dishes.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum is located in Ueno Park between Ueno Zoo and Tokyo National Museum. It is a 7 minute walk from the Park Exit of JR Ueno Station, 10 minutes from Keisei Ueno Station, and 10 minutes from Ueno Subway Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza and Hibiya lines. Here is a map showing its location
Opening Hours: 9.30 – 17.30 (Last entry: 17.00)
Fridays: 9.30 – 20.00 during special exhibitions (Last entry: 19.30)
Closed: Mondays for Special Exhibitions and every 1st and 3rd Monday for Public Entry Exhibitions
(If Monday is a national holiday, the museum will open and be closed on the following Tuesday instead)
Closed: December 29th – January 3rd and occasionally for maintenance.
Admission: Fees vary with each exhibition
Article and original photos by Michael Lambe. All rights reserved.