The Nagoya City Museum

  • Permanent Exhibit: 9:30 ~ 17:00 Closed Mondays and the 4th Tuesday of the month The Spirit and Form of Zen: Treasures of Soji-ji Temple October 15 (Sat) - November 27 (Sun) 9:30 ~ 17:00 Closed Mondays and the 4th Tuesday (Oct 25 & Nov 22)
  • Permanent Exhibit: Adults ¥300, College & High School ¥200, Junior High and under free / The Spirit and Form of Zen: Adults ¥1000 (Advance ¥800) College & High School ¥600 (Advance ¥400) Junior High and Elementary School ¥300 (Advance ¥100) * With this ticket, you can see the permanent exhibition for free. * If you have a subway day pass or a Donichi Eco Kippu (a subway day pass for weekends), you will get ¥100 off.
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  • (052) 853-2655

Nagoya has a lot of museums but did you know that it has a museum about… Nagoya? Well not just Nagoya actually, the entire Owari area to be more specific. Owari was a province of Japan in the place that today forms the western half of Aichi Prefecture, including the modern day city of Nagoya.

The museum’s permanent collection is focused on the history of this area stretching all the way back to the Paleolithic Period and up to and including the Post-war Japan. The exhibition features archaeological materials, fine art, crafts, documents,folk materials as well as a lot of ordinary items in use in Japan up until the Showa era.

Most interesting are from archaeological digs which feature entire skeletons, an excellent example of a boat-shaped coffin. There’s also a collection of implements used in the detention and execution of prisoners as well as numerous sign boards dictating rules, laws and regulations of the time. The turbulent history of the region is filled with clans, shoguns and conflict over who ran what area.

It is natural therefore that exhibits give great focus to two locally-born warlords Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) and Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598), and the subsequent rise to power of the Owari branch of Tokugawa clan under the third of the great generals, Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616).

But as a Showa-era gaijin it is the section related to the war and the postwar eras that I felt more connection with.

For example they have an interesting collection of household items from washing machines and TV’s and other electronics on display. I found it fascinating to learn that you had to get a permit to listen to the radio back in the day – something hard to fathom in the current internet era.

But perhaps it is the World War 2 era section depicting the life of elementary school kids that is the most poignant. Here we see their uniforms, textbooks depicting soldiers marching off to war, as well as homework which has been marked and graded and would not look out of place in one of my kid’s school bags.

Doubtless it is the drawings made by children of the bombings and devastation wrought by the war that are the most heartbreaking. Despite the fact that many kids were evacuated to the countryside you can see that they were quite aware of the violence being wrought by the war.
Spirit and Form of Zen

There’s obviously loads more to see including the special exhibits. The Pompeii exhibition which just ended in September was world-class. And coming up later this month Nagoya is in of a real treat – The Spirit and Form of Zen: Treasures of Soji-ji Temple which runs from October 15 to November 27.
This exhibition will showcase well-selected collections of Soji-ji temple one of two head temples of the Soto school of Zen, and will introduce what Soto Zen is.

Soji-ji has a wide variety of treasures which include not only classic items such as portraits of Zen monks and calligraphy paper but also some modern art as well.

The exhibition goes until November 27 but is organized in two parts. Some of the exhibits will changed after the first half of the exhibit which goes from October 15 to November 6. The second part of the exhibition takes place from Nov 7 to Nov 27.

A special highlight of the fist half of the exhibition is a massive woven and embroidered cloth called “Shishu Shishikumon Dai-happi” which is designated as a cultural asset of national importance.  It’s a cloth which is 7.3 meters tall and 6.7 meters wide which is beautifully embroidered with a golden lion in the middle. It’s usually only displayed at the Soji-ji temple once a year.

Importantly the temple has agreed to allow it to be on display during this exhibit for three weeks from  Oct 15 to Nov 6. Don’t miss it as this is the very first time for it to be displayed outside the temple.
This exhibition is not only about exhibits but also incorporates a chance for you to experience Zazen practice in the form of seated meditation. The main feature of Soto Zen is to be seated for a super-long time with your legs and hands folded.

It’s a meditative discipline and a Zen monk will show you how to do Zazen. Zazen sessions will be held (in Japanese only)only on the following days and are only available to 20 people at a time on a first come, first served basis:  Oct 26th (Wed), 27th (Thu), 28th (Fri) 14:30~

The museum will hand out numbered tickets at 12:30 each day to the first 20 people so get there early if you want one!

If you don’t get a ticket to the Zazen sessions, you can still sit and exeperience Zazen in one of the 10 seats placed in a hall surrounded by the temple’s treasures with over 700 years of history.

The permanent exhibit has an English audio guide available for rent. Use the guide to take you around approximately sixty of the main items on display in the museum’s permanent collection. There is also a children’s version in Japanese. Audio guides cost ¥200 for adults and are free for JHS students & under.

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