The Kyoto National Museum (京都国立博物館 Kyōto Kokuritsu Hakubutsukan?) is one of the major art museums in Japan. Located in Kyoto’s Higashiyama ward, the museum focuses on pre-modern Japanese and Asian art.
The museum was originally built to house and display art treasures privately owned by temples and shrines, as well as items donated by the Imperial Household Ministry. Currently, most all of the items in the museum are more or less on permanent loan from one of those places.
The museum is divided into three parts: Fine Arts, including sculptures, paintings and works of calligraphy; Handicrafts, including pottery, fabrics, lacquerwares and metalworks; and Archaeology, including objects of archaeological and historical interest. Altogether, the museum houses over 12,000 works, of which around 6,000 are on display at the museum. The museum also boasts photographic archives containing over 200,000 photographic negatives and color transparencies. In the Fine Arts collections alone, there are more than 230 pieces that have been designated as either National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties.
The museum focuses on mainly pre-modern Japanese works (it is said to have the largest collection of Heian period artifacts) and Asian art. The museum is also well known for its collections of rare and ancient Chinese and Japanese sutras. Other famous works include senzui byōbu (landscape screen) from the 11th century, and the gakizōshi (Scroll of Hungry Ghosts) from the 12th century.
The Kyoto National Museum, then the Imperial Museum of Kyoto, was proposed, along with the Imperial Museum of Tokyo (Tokyo National Museum) and the Imperial Museum of Nara (Nara National Museum), in 1889, and construction on the museum finished in October, 1895. The museum was opened in 1897. The museum went through a series of name changes, in 1900 changing its name to the Imperial Household Museum of Kyoto, and once more in 1924 to the Imperial Gift Museum of Kyoto. The current name, the Kyoto National Museum, was decided upon in 1952.
In the beginning of the Meiji period (1868–1912), the movement to Westernize and modernize Japanese society put the country’s traditional culture, antiquities, sacred temples and shrine treasures at risk of damage or destruction. In order to protect Japan’s endangered cultural properties, the government committed in 1889 to build three national museums, in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nara. The Kyoto National Museum opened in 1897 under the name Imperial Museum of Kyoto.
In 2014, the museum opened a new wing, the Heisei Chishinkan, to house exhibitions of its extensive collections, comprising over 12,500 significant works of art—including ceramics, archaeological artifacts, painting, sculpture, calligraphy, textiles, metalwork, lacquer, and other genres. The collections comprise not only works owned by the museum but also treasures from temples, shrines, and private collections, which are entrusted to the Kyoto National Museum on long-term loan.
The regular exhibitions are shown in The Collections Galleries, while the Special Exhibition Hall is used for special exhibits. The Main Exhibition Hall, the Main Gate, and the Ticket Area have all been designated as Important Cultural Properties in Japan.