The journey of the Museum Yamato Bunkakan began in May of 1946, with Oita Torao, president of the Kinki Nippon Railway Company (otherwise known as Kintetsu). As a railway company serving the prefectures of Osaka, Nara, Kyoto and Mie, an area which might be deemed the cradle of Japanese culture and art, Mr. Oita thought it necessary to have a facility here that introduced the culture of Japan and other Asian countries to local people, as well as to visitors from abroad. At this time, Japan was taking its first new steps after the war to build its national culture.
The first museum director, Yashiro Yukio, felt the same way as Mr. Oita and cooperated with him on all facets of the facility’s establishment. Mr. Yashiro realized the vision of Mr. Oita, who wanted to create an Asian art museum that would be one to surpass the world standard as one that displayed the beauty of Asia. For the next 14 years, Mr. Yashiro collected various art works and conducted research in order to prepare for the opening of the museum.
In October of 1960, Saheki Isamu, then president of the Kintetsu Railway Company, opened the museum as one of the projects to commemorate the 50th year anniversary of the founding of the railway. Under the direction of Mr. Saheki, the hill of the Gakuenmae Sugawara Pond (commonly known as Kaerumata Pond) was chosen as the site of the museum. In 1985, as a project commemorating the 25th anniversary of the museum opening, an art research facility was established, and the architect Tatsuno Kingo transferred a portion of the Nara Hotel lounge (built in 1909) and reconstructed it here as the Bunka Hall. This is the story of the Museum Yamato Bunkakan, a place where visitors can now view myriad art works while enjoying the calm beauty of nature.
Art historian Yashiro Yukio (1890-1975) studied abroad in both England and Italy, specializing in Renaissance art. While in London, he published Sandro Botticelli, a lengthy book in English. After returning to Japan, he held important positions such as director of the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Tokyo, as well as other posts in cultural property administration. As a scholar who devoted himself to the research of Asian art, Mr. Yashiro was vital in conveying the value of these art works to people around the world. Because he conducted research from the viewpoint of Western art, Yashiro Yukio had a significant influence on how Asian art was reevaluated on the international stage.
While he was director of the Museum Yamato Bunkakan, Mr. Yashiro, with his international viewpoint, gathered art works that were representative of the beauty of Japan and other Eastern countries. These works remain the core of the museum’s current collection even today. In the 1943 volume of Nihon bijutsu no tokushitsu, or “Essence of Japanese Art” (published by Iwanami Shoten), Mr. Yashiro states, “Art is a development of humankind. That essence is its universality.” The Museum Yamato Bunkakan still endeavors to uphold this philosophy today.
The Museum Yamato Bunkakan sits atop a highland overlooking the Sugawara Pond, and is surrounded by a natural garden called the Bunkaen. Welcomed by the aged red pines at the front gate, as you climb the gentle slope of the curving path, you feel calm as you take each step towards the museum. The architecture of this building features namako-style(weatherproof raised plaster) walls on the exterior facade, evoking the image of Momoyama period castle citadels. Entering the structure, the visitor encounters the wide kuri-style hallway, with the heavy wooden beam construction reminiscent of temple buildings. This entryway is filled with soft light filtered by the opaque shutters, inviting museum visitors into the exhibition space.
An interior bamboo garden is constructed in the center of the exhibition room, allowing the art works to be appreciated in a natural garden environment. The scenery of Kasuga Mountain and the ancient walled city are visible from the outdoor terrace, where one can also hear birds chirping and wind rustling the treetops. If visitors need a change of scenery, they can rest their eyes upon the fresh green bamboo and the seasonal changes of the Bunkaen, breathe in the fresh air, and then leisurely return to the art works in the exhibition room. This way of enjoying the art is one of the special features of the Museum Yamato Bunkakan. Unlike at other art museums, visitors here encounter the harmony of nature’s colors and sounds and thus are able enjoy a new expression of East Asian art.
This type of art museum architecture and surrounding natural environment came from the philosophy of Yashiro Yukio, who stated that, “East Asian art looks its most beautiful when framed by nature.” Yoshida Isoya, the first architect to become a member of the Japan Art Academy, realized this vision and designed the main building.
We hope that many people will share in the enrichment and enjoyment that the Museum Yamato Bunkakan’s abundant collection of artworks and historical records has to offer.
The core of the Museum Yamato Bunkakan’s collection features over 2,000 artworks from Japan, China, and Korea, and includes painting, calligraphy, sculpture, ceramics, lacquer, metalwork, textiles, and glass. Examples are the Scroll of the Nezame Monogatari, Illuminated scroll of Hokekyō sutra, Screens of women engaged in various amusements (the Matsuura screens), and Li Di’s Leading a buffalo homewards in the snow,all of which are designated National Treasures. Included among the collection’s 31 designated Important Cultural Objects are Zhao Lingran’s Autumnal scenery by the lake in mist, Portrait of poet Kodai no Kimi: fragment of scroll of the thirty-six poets, Kaō’s Bamboo and sparrow, and the Koryŏ dynasty celadon Vessel with design of nine dragons. Among 14 of the designated Important Art Objects are Scroll of Okuni kabuki: first kabuki play performed by Izumo no Okuni and Beauty by Miyagawa Chōshun. These works are presented in regular rotation exhibitions. The museum also houses 664 documents from the collection of Dr. Nakamura Naokatsu (called the Sōhaku Collection), as well as 143 works of Tomika Tessai formerly owned by the Kondō family, and 6,162 volumes from the Suzuka Collection.
The museum has seven gallery rotations per year of objects in the collection, while the curators present Sunday art lectures throughout the year. In addition, lecture groups accompany yearly or biannual special exhibitions borrowed from other art museums of private collections. Along with the regular rotations and special exhibitions, curators provide explanations about selected objects each Saturday at 2 p.m.
Since the museum’s establishment, it has emphasized both the exhibition of art works as well as research. The art research journal Yamato Bunka has been published since 1951. The journal is issued twice each year, and because it is one of the oldest art research publications in Japan, it is highly valued both domestically and abroad. Also popular are the separate volume collection catalogues, special exhibition catalogues, and volumes 1-4 of the Meihinsaku booklets, which are useful for art appreciation. The museum also offers reproductions and postcards featuring some of the paintings in the collection, which make great gifts.
The museum offers a place for art appreciation as well as hands-on art experiences for elementary school through university students. For further information please contact the museum.
Adults ¥630 / High school and college students ¥420 / Elementary and junior high school students Free
Adults ¥950 / High school and college students ¥730 / Elementary and junior high school students Free
＊Discounts for groups of 20 or more persons: 20% off for all members, and free admission for the group leader.
＊Discounts for physically-challenged/mentally-handicapped individuals: 20% off for individuals displaying physical disability certificates, etc., and for one caregiver
From the Kintetsu Nara line Gakuenmae station, the museum is a 7-minute walk from south entrance.
From Osaka (Kintetsu Namba station) rapid express towards Nara, approx. 25 minutes.
From Nara (Kintetsu Nara station) rapid express towards Namba, approx. 9 minutes.
From Kyoto (Kintetsu Kyoto station) special express or express, transfer at Yamato Saidaiji, approx. 45 minutes.