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Retro Japan: Country's 1st private art museum designed by famed architect a piece of art

The second-floor terrace's Chinese-style formal beauty is impressive at the Okura Museum of Art in Tokyo's Minato Ward, as seen on May 20, 2021. (Mainichi/Akihiro Ogomori)=Click/tap photo for more images.

TOKYO -- The Okura Museum of Art, adjacent to The Okura Tokyo hotel in the capital's Minato Ward, was founded by businessperson Okura Kihachiro as Japan's first private art museum and is an artwork in itself.

    The second-floor gallery with elaborately designed columns and the ceiling is seen at the Okura Museum of Art in Tokyo's Minato Ward on May 20, 2021. (Mainichi/Akihiro Ogomori)=Click/tap photo for more images.

    The current structure was designed by Ito Chuta, who became the first person in the architecture industry in Japan to receive the Order of Culture, and was constructed in 1927. The original museum built in the Taisho era (1912-1926) and its collection were lost in the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and the ensuing fire. Therefore, fire and quake resistance were thoroughly considered when the current building was constructed. According to Taisei Corp., which later conducted renovation and extension work, the museum building is made of reinforced concrete, and has fire shutters, which were rare at the time of the construction.

    Ito, who would also design Tsukiji Hongwanji temple and Yushima-seido temple, both in Tokyo, adopted a Chinese classical-style for the Okura Museum of Art, and arranged columns at regular intervals on the second-floor terrace. He also placed decors of an imaginary monster called "fun" on the edges of the roof covered with copper plates and the upper part of columns in the second-floor gallery as the museum's guardian god, embodying the architect's unique world view.

    The art museum was registered as a national tangible cultural property in 1998. This structure that stores precious items remains an artwork itself.

    The museum is temporarily closed for interior repair work. It will reopen on April 4, 2023.

    (Japanese original by Akihiro Ogomori, Photo and Video Center)

    The Okura Museum of Art is seen surrounded by tall buildings in Tokyo's Minato Ward on June 1, 2021. (Mainichi/Akihiro Ogomori)=Click/tap photo for more images.

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    The Japanese version of this article was originally published on July 4, 2021.

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    This series explores Japan's architectural wonders and secrets of yesteryear. Read more Retro Japan articles here.

    Retro Japan in Photos: Okura Museum of Art in Tokyo's Minato Ward

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