Lonely Planet review
If you visit only one museum in Tokyo, make it this one. Considered the Louvre of Japan, the Tokyo National Museum's grand buildings hold the world's largest collection of Japanese art, and you could easily spend half a day perusing the galleries here. The building dates from 1939 and is in the imperial style, which fuses Western and Japanese architectural motifs.
There are four galleries, the most important of which is the Honkan (Main Gallery). For an introduction to Japanese art history from Jōmon to Edo in one fell swoop, head to the 2nd floor to find the Highlights of Japanese Art exhibition (and be sure to snag one of the detailed brochures). Other galleries include ancient pottery, religious sculpture, arms and armour, exquisite lacquerware and calligraphy.
The Gallery of Hōryū-ji Treasures displays masks, scrolls and gilt Buddhas from Hōryū-ji – located in Nara Prefecture, and said to be the first Buddhist temple in Japan (founded in 607) – in a spare, elegant box of a contemporary building (1999) by Taniguchi Yoshio, who also designed New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The Heiseikan (Heisei Hall) opened in 1993 to commemorate the marriage of Crown Prince Naruhito, and is used for exhibitions of Japanese archaeology as well as special exhibits.
Hyōkeikan (Hyōkei Hall) was built in 1909, with Western-style architecture that is reminiscent of a museum you might find in Paris, though inside it shows works from across East and South Asia and the Middle East. Normally these are in a fifth building, Tōyōkan (Gallery of Eastern Antiquities), which is closed for earthquake retrofitting and due to reopen in 2012.