A tour of modern architecture

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Course: JR Ueno Station >> The National Museum of Western Art >> Tokyo National Museum Hyokeikan >> National Diet Library International Library of Children’s Literature >> Kyu Iwasaki-tei Gardens

The area around Ueno Park features many examples of Tokyo’s best modern architecture by renowned masters, including Le Corbusier and Josiah Conder. The course starts at JR Ueno Station, tours The National Museum of Western Art and the National Diet Library International Library of Children’s Literature, leads around Shinobazu Pond, and finishes at Kyu Iwasaki-tei Gardens. Spend a good full day admiring brilliant works of architecture found only in Ueno.

10:00 JR Ueno Station Central Gate

Outside and above the Central Gate, meet Freedom by Genichiro Inokuma. The grand mural, measuring 6 meters high and 27.2 meters wide, was created in 1951, and after several periods of restoration work, continues to adorn the main gate of Ueno Station today. Remember not to rush past the gates, but to pause and look back.

10-min. walk

10:10 Map: 1 The National Museum of Western Art

The Main building of The National Museum of Western Art (NMWA) is the only work in Japan by Le Corbusier, the French architect known as one of the three masters of modern architecture. The museum is also the only national institution in Japan dedicated to Western art. The square spiral structure is designed to allow outward extension when necessary, for instance, as the artwork collection grows. Each gallery winds into the next, expressing Le Corbusier’s lifelong theory of a museum of unlimited growth. He realized this concept in only three museums in the world: the NMWA in Japan and two locations in India. The NMWA building was designated an important cultural property in 2007.

Name/ The National Museum of Western Art
Address/ 7-7 Ueno Koen, Taito-ku, Tokyo
Hours/ 9:30–17:30 / Friday –20:00 (last admission 30 min. before closing)
Closing days/ Mondays (opens on Monday it falls on a holiday then closes on Tuesday), New Year holidays
URL/ http://www.nmwa.go.jp/en/( External link)

10-min. walk

En route from the NMWA to the Tokyo National Museum, Ueno Park has many benches perfect for taking a break. It’s a wonderful idea to enjoy a boxed lunch by the large water fountain.

13:00 Map: 2 Tokyo National Museum Hyokeikan

The Tokyo National Museum (TNM) is the museum with the longest history in Japan. Hyokeikan was erected to commemorate the marriage of the Meiji Crown Prince (later Emperor Taisho). It is the work of Tokuma Katayama, the designer of numerous Imperial Court structures including the former Crown Prince’s Palace (now the Akasaka Palace). Kayatama is also known as the first apprentice of British architect Josiah Conder. Hyokeikan features neo-Baroque style architecture of ancient Greece and Rome, making lavish use of granite. The central dome houses an atrium, and the northern and southern domes each a staircase. The gallery was designated an important cultural property in 1978.

5-min. walk

13:45 Map: 3National Diet Library International Library of Children’s Literature

The Library of Children’s Literature at the National Diet Library was originally built in 1906 as the Imperial Library. This is Japan’s first national library, designed by Masamichi Kuru and Hideo Mamizu, who were dispatched to the United States to study leading technologies and aim to construct the largest structure in Asia at the time. The stately, refined Renaissance style building features a sophisticated interior of wrought iron handrails and beautiful ceilings and walls. For renovation work in the Heisei period (1989–), renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando designed two glass boxes serving as entrance and lounge. The extension in no way detracts from the splendor of the original structure but rather enhances its architectural style. The building opened in 2000 as Japan’s first library dedicated to children’s literature, and is selected as a Tokyo-designated historical building.

5-min. walk

14:20 [Explore Ueno]

Admiring the former Kanei-ji Temple five-story pagoda in Ueno Zoo to the right, proceed toward Shinobazu Pond. Take in the view of the lotuses in the water and the forest of Ueno beyond.

25-min. walk

15:00 Map: 4Kyu Iwasaki-tei Gardens

The Western style building and billiards building at Kyu Iwasaki-tei Gardens are known as works representing the prime of the career of British architect Josiah Conder. They were built in 1896 as the residence of Hisaya Iwasaki, the third president of Mitsubishi. The Western-style building is a wooden two-story structure relatively rare at the time. The interior, featuring Jacobean style architecture with hints of Renaissance and Islamic design, preserves its original beautiful grandeur today. The billiards building, also by Conder, is inspired by Swiss mountain hut architecture very rare in Japan at the time. Both the Western-style and billiards buildings were designated important cultural properties in 1961. The latter opens to the public on an irregular basis. The tearoom in the Japanese style building serves the Italian dessert affogato using ice cream from the Koiwai Farm. The matcha flavor is recommended, to match the Japanese setting.

3-min. walk

16:30 Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line Yushima Station Exit 1

Model course A tour of modern architecture is displayed on a larger map

The red lines indicate trains and subways, blue lines are buses and cars, green lines are for walking, pink lines are for bicycles, purple lines are ships and water buses.