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  • Writer's picture Japan Culture Guide

A hidden spot behind a huge museum where you can experience Japanese culture in tranquility

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

Theme: Japanese cuisine, ZEN, Japanese Garden

1. Overview

One of the largest museums in Japan, the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno, is a great place to learn about Japanese history and culture chronologically. On the other hand, did you know that behind this huge building lies a beautiful Japanese garden? Some historical Japanese-style buildings have been relocated to the side of the tranquil garden. These buildings, usually closed to the public, are being used to host various events until the end of January next year.

At TOHAKU Chakan, visitors can enjoy light meals such as soba (buckwheat noodles) and wagashi (Japanese confectionery), as well as a coffee shop, and upon reservation, authentic seasonal dishes are available. Next door, the Kujokan offers Zen breathing exercises, kimono rentals, and Matcha (powdered green tea) experience, among other programs.

All of these require admission to the Tokyo National Museum, so it is difficult to get crowded in the first place, and by making reservations in advance, you can be sure to receive the service without having to wait. I hope you enjoy the museum's exhibits before and after your experience. A relaxing day in Ueno Park will be a wonderful Tokyo experience.

2. Must-see spots

Japanese authentic cuisine
'Omakase' lunch box

1) TOHAKU Chakan (caféteria)

In the corner of the Japanese garden behind the museum's main building is a traditional Japanese house called Okyokan. It is a mid-18th century Shoin (drawing room) moved from Nagoya by Takashi Masuda, the founder of Mitsui and a well-known tea master. The name "Okyokan" comes from the fusuma (sliding door) paintings in the house by Japanese painter Maruyama Okyo (copies of which are currently on display). TOHAKU Chakan opened here in July of this year. The menu consists mainly of light meals such as noodles and rice balls, Japanese sweets, and a coffee shop menu, but authentic Japanese dishes are also available upon advance reservation. Visitors can enjoy eating and drinking in a quiet Japanese-style room with a view of the garden and fusuma paintings.

Japanese style room coverd with tatami mats
Kujokan Tatami room

2) ZEN breathing experience

Next to the Okyokan is the Kujokan. The Kujokan is a valuable Edo period shoin-style building, with gorgeous paintings and furnishings decorating the interior. Here, hands-on programs are offered, including ZEN breathing, a modernized version of the Zen breathing technique that restores one's health and transforms one's life. Other programs include kimono rental, which allows visitors to walk around the museum and gardens in kimono, and the popular matcha (powdered green tea) experience, where visitors can make their own powdered green tea (advance reservations are required).

a traditional Japanse house for tea ceremony
Tengo-an tearoom

3. Japanese Garden

The location of the Japanese Garden at the Tokyo National Museum was originally the site of Kan'eiji Temple, a family temple of the Tokugawa Shoguns, and it is said to retain the vestiges of the Kan'eiji Garden. Here, visitors can enjoy a spacious view unencumbered by high-rise buildings, a rarity in Tokyo. The garden is usually open to the public only for short periods in spring and fall, but with the opening of the TOHAKU Chakan this year, it can be enjoyed at all times. 5 historical tea houses have been relocated here, making this a must-visit destination for those who love Japanese gardens and Sukiya (tea house) architecture (tea rooms).

3. Access

About 10 minutes' walk from JR Ueno station

When you visit TOHAKU Chakan in the Tokyo National Museum, it is strongly recommended that you go with an experienced tour guide to learn more about the history and culture.

If you want a private guide, please click the button below and fill in an inquiry form.



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