Gallery of Horyuji Treasures - Atlas Obscura

Gallery of Horyuji Treasures

Tokyo National Museum

This lesser-visited gallery in a corner of the Tokyo National Museum complex is an architectural beauty dedicated to the ancient treasures of Hōryū-ji. 


The Tokyo National Museum is one of the largest art museums in the world, home to many of Japan’s cultural treasures as well as a huge, diverse collection of Asian art, from ancient Mesopotamia to India to Korea, housed in a complex of several facilities.

While most visitors spend their hours in the Japanese and Archaeology Galleries—and some check out the five-story Asian Gallery for diverse antiquities—there is more to the museum complex, such as the serene Japanese garden and the modernist gallery dedicated to the ancient treasures of Hōryū-ji, one of the most venerated and oldest Buddhist temples of Japan.

The treasure was originally bequeathed to the Imperial House in 1878, then passed on into the government’s care following World War II. The Tokyo National Museum founded the “Gallery of Horyuji Treasures” in 1964, only open to the public once a week due to concerns about the preservation of the precious artifacts.

In 1999, the gallery finally received a makeover, to be housed in a building designed by renowned architect Yoshio Taniguchi. Sleek and almost unassuming, you may not expect to find ancient Buddhist artifacts here but once inside, you are sure to be stunned by its collection.

The dimly-lit exhibit room on the first floor is a modern space with an almost futuristic flair, home to a gorgeous collection of fifty-odd statuettes of the Buddha and other guardian deities sculpted in gilt-bronze circa 7th century. On the upper floor are galleries displaying calligraphy and lacquerwork, with a digital exhibit on the mezzanine level, where a collection of more fragile treasures unsuitable for permanent exhibition (such as tapestries and paintings) can be viewed through virtual means.

Know Before You Go

The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures shares its opening hours with the Tokyo National Museum: open 9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. (or 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays), closed on Mondays.

A ticket to the museum (1000 yen for adults) includes entry to the gallery; it's located on the left hand as you enter the complex, beyond the wooded area.

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December 26, 2023

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