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Take a peek into Tokyo’s ‘Modern Life’ 90 years ago ー at the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum

Teien Museum

The Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum in the Shirokanedai area offers visitors the rare chance to take a peek inside their historical Art Deco villa and feel its special atmosphere. Visit their current exhibition to experience the latest living style and space in Tokyo ー 90 years ago!

About the history of the museum

The Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum

The main building of the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum was the residence of the Asaka family. Prince Yasuhiko Asaka, an aristocrat who was married to the daughter of the Meiji Emperor, built this mansion as his residence. In a time when traveling abroad was quite uncommon, Yasuhiko and his wife stayed in France for some time. This was the time when Art Deco was popular in Europe. After his return to Japan, he decided to build his new residence in Art Deco style.

Completed in 1933, the mansion was built in a relatively short period ー two years of planning and another two years of construction. Their current exhibition, held in the historic main building and the new annex building, focuses on the cutting-edge life in Tokyo in the 1930s.

Usually, the villa’s curtains stay closed but for this exhibition, they are open! Therefore you get the chance to see the building with the same natural lighting the Asaka family saw it in their daily life.

Unlike Art Nouveau with its playful and ornate design, Art Deco has a linear design with a lot of straight lines. This made mass production possible.

Many of the glass decorations are by French glass craftsmen René Lalique and Max Ingrand, who unfortunately never got the chance to see their works here in Japan!

You might have noticed that recently many buildings and landmarks in Tokyo light up in blue at night. This is a gesture to express gratitude and support to medical staff who are on the frontline tackling Covid-19. Staff at this exhibition told me that they chose to include this blue vase in the exhibit for the same reason.

Exploring the main building

First floor

The first floor of the main building was used to entertain guests. There is a guest room and a large dining room, where gorgeous Art Deco decorations will catch your eye. The second floor was the everyday living space of the royal family.

Many of the Western-style furniture are actually “Made in Japan”. They are called Shiba furniture and were made by furniture makers in Shimbashi (Shiba area).

As I strolled through the bedrooms and living rooms, I noticed the vivid design of the wallpapers in each room. Apparently, all of the wallpapers were imported from a German wallpaper manufacture ー and it was washable with water! In some rooms, the wallpapers had to be removed due to the Japanese Fire Service Act, which happened before the building became a designated cultural property. It is still fun to wander around the rooms while imagining how the rooms would have felt with the colorful wallpapers. Make sure you don’t miss the display of some pieces of the old wallpapers!

The wall pattern was also made by Japanese craftsmen using Rough Coat textured plastering from abroad. If you look closely, you can see that the design differs depending on the wall.

A heating radiator with a beautiful covering. At that time this was state-of-the-art equipment, but it was rarely used during the war.

What else is there to see?

Inside the Annex is currently a special exhibition showcasing the life of Tokyo in the 1930s. But make sure that you don’t miss stepping out into the garden! The word Teien in the museum’s name means ‘garden’ after all.
The garden has three areas in different styles. The Japanese garden has a tea room, and if you want to lie down, just head to the lawn space or visit the Western garden!

Teien Museum

The teahouse in a corner of the huge garden

What kind of people were the Asaka family who seemed to be so interested in the latest trends and took great effort to incorporate them into their residence? And how will 90-year-old “cutting-edge” architecture and art look from a 2020’s perspective? This exhibition is a chance to find that out! Don’t miss it!

‘Looking at Architecture in 2020 The 1930s—Urban Life in Modern Tokyo: The Tokyo Metropolitan Collection at the Former Prince Asaka Residence’
Date: June 1st – September 27, 2020

Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum

5-21-9 Shirokanedai, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Google Maps: https://goo.gl/maps/dERJckhLcBA7QXjk6
Nearest Stations: Meguro Station, Shirokanedai Station

As a measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus, all visitors are asked to check their temperature and use hand disinfectant before entering.

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I was born and raised in Kiel/Germany. When I was 16 I came to Japan for the first time. I fell in love with this beautiful country, so I returned after my university graduation. Since then, I have been living in Tokyo - and I don't plan to change anything about that ;-) My hobbies are taking a stroll around the city, taking photos and drinking coffee.

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