About the Museum


Throughout the long history of Japan, the Imperial Household has constantly been in close contact with the nation's arts and culture in various ways. The Imperial Household's contributions, over the centuries, are countless in the preservation of the nation's cultural and artistic objects, ranging from the Shosoin treasures Empress Komyo offered to the Vairocana of Todaiji Temple in memory of her deceased consort, Emperor Shomu, in the Nara period, to the treasures in the Renge-Oin Temple offered by the retired Emperor Go-Shirakawa of the 12th century in the height of the Heian period and further to the Higashiyama Bunko Library treasures collected by Emperor Gosai of the early Edo period and his successors. The Imperial Household continued to make contributions, since the Meiji Restoration in preservation of old pieces of art and promotion of new art and culture. The Imperial Household also acted to bring art and culture closer to the general public via establishment of the Imperial Museum and other cultural institutions. The Imperial Household's keen interest in cultural affairs naturally resulted in large collections of superior artistic objects, either handed down in the family from generation to generation or collected from domestic and foreign sources in the modern period. Such artistic objects were extensively used to decorate the Imperial Palaces and other official buildings as well as for the personal enjoyment of members of the Imperial Household. After the establishment of the Imperial Museum, moreover, many of the artistic objects were exhibited for the benefit of the general public. Honorably known as the "Gyobutsu" (Imperial Properties), the artistic objects in the Imperial Household's possession were long placed under several different agencies, such as the Department of Chamberlains, the Department of Furnishings, the Department of Construction and the Department of Archives, categorized after close evaluation and classification by experts.

After World War II, a great majority of the Imperial Collections at Horyuji Temple in Nara was placed under the supervision of the Tokyo National Museum as national properties. The famed Shosoin treasures and the art and craft works of the Department of Archives and Mausolea were also turned into National properties; all newly placed under the control of the Imperial Household Agency. However, some of the Imperial treasures remained under the control of the Department of Chamberlains as Imperial Properties. In June 1989, His Majesty the Emperor Emeritus and Empress Kojun donated, to the nation, some 6,000 items of art, including paintings, calligraphic specimens and craft objects, among the remaining Imperial Collections. As many of the donated artistic objects (which were placed under the control of the Imperial Household Agency) are of supreme artistic value, it was decided to establish a museum organization in order to store and display them safely. The construction of the museum building started in January 1991 and was completed in August 1992. Named Sannomaru Shozokan (Museum of the Imperial Collections), the Museum immediately took custody of the donated art objects and started to display them in public from November 3, 1993. In 1996, the collection of the late Prince Chichibu was donated to the Museum, followed by that of the late Empress Kojun in 2001, the late Prince Takamatsu in 2005, and the collection of the family of the Prince of Mikasa in 2014, creating a total of approximately 9,800 objects.

The Sannomaru Shozokan collection counts a great number of peerless artistic objects representing each major artistic period of Japan, ranging from the Poems from the anthology Wakan Roeishu, Detcho version, and the Poems from the anthology Man’yo shu, Kanazawa version, both masterpieces of calligraphic art of the Heian period, to the Picture Scrolls of the Legends of Kasuga Shrine (Kasuga Gongen Genki E) and the Picture Scrolls of the Mongol Invasion, both picture scrolls of the Kamakura period, to Kano Eitoku's Chinese Lions Screens, and further to Kano Tan'yu's Scenes from the Tale of Genji and Ito Jakuchu's the Doshoku Sai-e (Colorful Realm of Living Beings). Among the works of recent times, there are a number of fascinating works by such modern masters as Shimomura Kanzan, Yokoyama Taikan, Namikawa Yasuyuki and Takamura Koun. Sannomaru Shozokan is equipped with a fully air conditioned storage room in order to keep its priceless possessions in the best possible conditions, hopefully forever, and shows its collections in the same conditions. The Museum is also engaged in a variety of research and preservation activities and regularly publishes the results of such activities.