Cafe at Tokyo National Museum Offers Culture amid Art

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tohaku Chakan, where reproductions of fusuma-e paintings by Maruyama Okyo are on display.

A traditional Japanese-style house has been temporarily turned into a cafe at the Tokyo National Museum in Taito Ward, Tokyo, to provide foreign visitors a chance to experience the charms of Japanese culture.

Cafe Tohaku Chakan will be open through Jan. 28 at Okyokan, a one-story wooden building originally constructed in 1742, and will offer a wide range of workshops on Japanese culture, such as kimono wearing, zen breathing techniques and bonsai.

Okyokan was originally built as the shoin, or study room, of Myogenin temple in Aichi Prefecture. It was moved to the residence of Takashi Masuda, the first president of what was then Mitsui & Co., before being donated to the museum in Ueno Park in 1933.

Okyokan is known for its fusuma-e (pictures painted on fusuma sliding doors) by Edo-period artist Maruyama Okyo (1733-1795). Currently, reproductions of the fusuma-e are on display to protect the originals. The museum has rented out Okyokan for a fee for tea ceremonies and other occasions.

At Tohaku cafe, visitors can sit in a tatami-mat room and enjoy soba and other Japanese dishes as well as wagashi sweets, in addition to select alcoholic beverages, including sake from Aramasa Co., a sake brewery in Akita Prefecture, and Ichiro’s Malt, a leading domestic whiskey.

The uchiwa fans and zabuton cushions used in the cafe are craft products from different regions of Japan and can be purchased at Okyokan.

Usually, the museum attracts 3,000 to 4,000 visitors per day to its permanent exhibit, more than half of whom are said to be foreign nationals, thanks to a rise in the number of foreign visitors coming to Japan. The museum said it may run Tohaku Cafe from spring next year on a seasonal basis if it is well received.

“We hope visitors will enjoy the museum to the fullest by staying for a day at this place where they can experience not only Japanese art but also Japanese culture in a comprehensive manner,” said Katsunori Takenouchi, director of the museum’s general affairs division.