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Immerse Yourself in Art and History: Unveiling Tokyo’s Museum at the Imperial Palace

Treasures of the Imperial Family at Sannomaru Shozokan

Hidden away in the middle of Tokyo, the Museum of the Imperial Collections, Sannomaru Shozokan, is a serene refuge from the bustle of busy city life. Within walking distance of Tokyo station, the museum is home to various artworks that were previously owned by the Japanese Imperial Family for centuries. This one-of-a-kind museum reopened in November 2023 after construction and invites visitors to enjoy these invaluable artworks in the historical setting of the Imperial Palace grounds.

Discover Japan's artistic legacy through the Imperial Collections

Passed down over generations by members of the Imperial Family, many of the items at the Museum of the Imperial Collections, Sannomaru Shozokan, rank among Japan's most valuable masterpieces. The museum's collection ranges from calligraphy and paintings to decorative arts such as ceramics, lacquerware, and metalworks.

In 1989, the Imperial Family donated a substantial collection of art to the nation of Japan following the passing of Emperor Showa (1901-1989). To preserve and exhibit these works, the Museum of the Imperial Collections was opened to the public within the grounds of the Imperial Palace in 1993. Additional gifts from Prince Chichibu, Empress Kojun, Prince Takamatsu, and Prince Mikasa have since expanded the museum's collection. The effects of age on these historical pieces, many of which are made from wood, paper, or silk, make them particularly vulnerable to damage. To avoid harming the art, the museum displays most pieces only for a limited time.

Once-in-a-lifetime encounter with exquisite artworks

Fewer than half of the pieces in Sannomaru Shozokan's collection have been shown to the public — leaving thousands of never-before-seen treasures awaiting their turn. Each exhibition thus becomes a unique experience that calls to mind the Japanese concept of ichigo ichie. Often translated as "a once-in-a-lifetime encounter," ichigo ichie refers to life's fleeting, unrepeatable moments. Because no two exhibitions are the same, visitors may never see the same artwork twice.

Collection encompassing distinct histories

The collection can be split up into three main categories: pre-1868 artworks, post-1868 Japanese artworks, and post-1868 non-Japanese artworks. The pre-1868 portion of the collection contains works of art that date to at least the fourth century BCE, but many of the pieces were obtained during the Edo period (1603-1867), when Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate. With the restoration of the emperor's political power in 1868, the Imperial Family commissioned many works of art as part of an effort to modernize the nation. The new Japanese state was also gifted many items from other countries as it expanded diplomatic relations after more than 200 years of isolation.

Former site of Edo Castle: bringing old and new together

Sannomaru Shozokan is located within the larger Imperial Palace grounds, which encompass what was once Edo Castle, the seat of power for the Tokugawa shogunate. After the end of the shogunate in 1868, the emperor was restored to power and moved from Kyoto to the new capital, Tokyo, taking up residence in Edo Castle. Many locations within the modern Imperial Palace retain names from the castle's original structures, including Sannomaru Shozokan. The museum was built within what was once Edo Castle's sannomaru, or third bailey, the area bordered by the castle's outermost fortified wall.

The renovated museum was designed to echo the style of the Imperial Palace. The new building blends modern simplicity with traditional architectural elements, such as diamond-patterned motifs on the walls, the verdigris of the copper roofs, and decorative chains that funnel rainwater from the eaves.

Artworks that once delighted an Emperor's eye are now accessible to all

Sannomaru Shozokan shares with the public a trove of art that went largely unseen for centuries. Following the death of Emperor Showa and the beginning of the Heisei era in 1989, the Imperial Family made special effort to become closer to the general populace. The founding of the Shozokan was a significant step. The museum's large collection provides a record of the history and aesthetic tastes of Japan's Imperial Family and stands as a monument to their central role in the arts for over a millennium. The same works of art that delighted an emperor's eye a thousand years ago may now be seen by everyone in Sannomaru Shozokan.

Find out more

How to get there

The Museum is accessible by multiple subway lines.

The closest entrance is through the Ote-mon Gate of the Imperial Palace East Gardens, which is 5-minute walk from Otemachi Station (Exit C13a).


The Museum of the Imperial Collections, Sannomaru Shozokan
1-8 Chiyoda, Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, 100-0001
(within the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace)

* All works housed in the Museum of the Imperial Collections, Sannomaru Shozokan, belong to the nation of Japan.