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MIID & ADF SPECIAL AWARD 2018 - Research Trip

Day 2 - Tuesday 3 March 2019

Nezu Museum, Minamiaoyama

True to the weather forecast, it rained for the entire day from the moment we left our hotel in the morning. We started off our day by dredging in the rain to take the Ginza train line to Omote-Sando station. After a Tonkotsu lunch and a 10 minute walk, we reached the Nezu Museum, designed by Kengo Kuma and Associates. Once the private residence of the Nezu family, the museum sits on a large compound with a beautiful garden and tea rooms that are open to the public.

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Nezu Museum - One has to walk past an open corridor to get inside the museum, flanked by a bamboo hedge on one side.

Located somewhere between the fashionable Omotesando Avenue and the woods of Meiji Shrine, the entrance to the museum is behind a bamboo thicket from the street. Once we walked through the threshold, we were presented with a view of a long open corridor underneath the large roof eaves and the bamboo thicket on one side. Although the weather was miserable, it was amazing to see the raindrops fall against the backdrop of bamboo as we walked along the path to the entrance. Walking along this path made us feel that we were taking part in some form of ritual; it was almost as if we were transitioning from the hustle and bustle of the street and becoming enveloped in the calm embrace of nature, with the gentle sound of raindrops on the pebbles following us.

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The interior of the museum is kept minimal and streamlined, with a focus on panoramic views to the garden outside.

It is almost as if the path leading to the entrance was preparing us to quieten our hearts - to be in a calm state of mind when entering the museum. We left our umbrellas in cleverly-designed holders outside and stepped into the double-height space shaped by the angular pitch of the roof. Inside, the museum is wrapped in soft Chinese grey stone and lightweight bamboo panels. The Chinese stone extends to the outside, further blurring the distinction between the interior and exterior. The entire wall that faces the garden is glass, and this brings the landscape inside the building and it becomes part of the exhibition. Buddhist statues align the glazed wall and they are softly lit so as to not distract the views of the garden. The galleries that display the works are simple, and each gallery is devoted to a different artistic or craft discipline. Works are displayed in simple glass cabinets, and lighting are kept to the minimum with focus only onto the artifacts on display.

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Buddhist statues align the windows with the backdrop of the garden behind.

From the museum, we ventured out to the garden where the cafe is located. As we walked further down it became apparent that the grounds were much larger than we thought. The windy stone paved paths took us downwards and we passed little traditional huts raised on stilts that housed the tea rooms. We came across a small lake against a backdrop of lush greenery and passed by small shrines dedicated to different deities or scholars.

The Nezu Museum and its garden can be seen as a device of unifying the city and the forest. The building itself references the vernacular with its large, gentle sloping roof that is a distinct characteristic of Japanese traditional architecture. There is nothing ostentatious about the museum given its significance; rather it sits humbly within its surroundings, giving a sense of harmony between the building and the garden.

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Interior of the museum with the dramatic sloped ceiling following the roof pitch.

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The glass reflects the underside of the pitched roof and floor – blurring the boundaries between the exterior and interior.

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The picturesque museum garden with native plants and greenery.