Crafts Gallery, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo is moving to Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture in October 2020 after quitting its operation in Tokyo on February 28, 2020.
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The Building

An introduction of a building

Crafts Gallery, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo is moving to Kanazawa City, Ishikawa Prefecture in summer 2020 after quitting its operation in Tokyo on February 28, 2020.

Crafts Gallery (Headquarters of the Imperial Guards)

The building of the Crafts Gallery was built almost a century ago, in 1910, as the headquarters of the Imperial Guards. This imposing structure looks much as it did when it was completed, near the end of the Meiji period. It was restored and opened as the Crafts Gallery, an annex to the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, in November, 1977.


The building was designed by Yasushi Tamura (1878-1942), an army engineer, and was completed in March of 1910, the year of the annexation of Korea by Japan. The following year, 1911, was another significant milestone in Japanese history: the Meiji government achieved a long-sought-after goal, restoration of tariff autonomy, with the revision of the unequal treaties that Japan had signed prior to the Meiji Restoration. Over fifty years after the signing of the first of those, the United States-Japan Treaty of Amity and Commerce in 1858, Japan had at last achieved a position of equality to the Western powers in international society.


The predecessor to these headquarters, the Takebashi Imperial Barracks, had been designed in 1872 by the British architect and engineer Thomas J. Waters (1843-1892), one of the many foreign experts who had been hired by the government to bring their technological expertise to Japan. Less than 40 years later, it was a young Japanese architect, Tamura, who had graduated from university only five years earlier, who designed the new headquarters, the Western-style brick structure that stands today. That too is a symbol of Meiji Japan’s achievements. Having taken its first steps toward becoming a modern state with the Western powers as its models and guides, by the end of the Meiji period, Japan had begun at last to stand on its own feet.


The Headquarters of the Imperial Guards was also the setting of an event of great historical importance. In the late night and early morning of August 14 and 15, 1945, a group of Army officers plotted to prevent the broadcast of the Emperor’s statement to the nation announcing Japan’s surrender, ending World War II, scheduled for noon on August 15. They murdered Lieutenant General Mori of the Imperial Guards Division and issued an order in his name to seize the recording of the Emperor’s statement and thus prevent the war from coming to an end. That attempted coup d’etat occurred in the Imperial Guards’ headquarters, making the building the site of one of the most critical incidents in the modern history of Japan.


Clearly this structure, located immediately beside the Inui Gate of the Imperial Palace, has had a prime view of the rise and fall of Imperial Japan. From the 1910 annexation of Korea to the end of World War II in 1945, it has been a witness to history.


After the war, the building was taken over by the postwar Imperial Guards (no longer part of the Army but simply providing security for the imperial family). The interior was cut into many small rooms with tatami flooring and used as a dormitory for Imperial Guards employees. In 1968, the Ministry of Construction issued a notification that it was to be torn down.


That September, Yoshiro Taniguchi (1904-1979) and others, representing the Committee on Architectural Design of the Architectural Institute of Japan, began a movement to preserve it. Yoshiro Taniguchi was an architect and pioneer in recognizing the value of the surviving structures from the Meiji period and calling for their preservation. After the war, Meiji-period buildings were being torn down in quick succession. “The Meiji period was regarded as the source of the war. Anything with the name Meiji attached to it was shunned almost as though it were a war criminal, and the aesthetics of the structures themselves were denied.”


Yoshiro Taniguchi was not alone in his concern for preserving historic buildings. In the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Hidemi Kon (1903-1984), who had been its first director-general, and deputy director-general Kenji Adachi (1918-1988) were moved by the appeal issued by the Architectural Institute of Japan to preserve the Headquarters of the Imperial Guards. In October of 1972, the building was designated an Important Cultural Property, a structure “important as a classical example of Meiji-period Western-style brick structures and as a remnant of the public buildings of that period. It was decided that the former headquarters would be used as an annex to the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.


It was obvious from the start that, even if the former Headquarters of the Imperial Guards were renovated, it would not offer much wall space for displaying paintings and similar works of art. Agency for Cultural Affairs discussions of how best to use the building resulted in the decision to restore it as a crafts gallery. At its inception, the Crafts Gallery received 39 craft objects that the main museum had owned, but its initial collection proved to be far larger. The Agency for Cultural Affairs had been buying outstanding works from among those shown at the annual Exhibition of Japanese Traditional Art Crafts, and at the opening of the Crafts Gallery, the agency transferred 428 of those pieces to it. The Crafts Gallery thus was launched as a gallery for what were designated “traditional crafts,” with the comprehensive backing of the Agency for Cultural Affairs.


In January of 1973, work began to preserve and repair the former Headquarters of the Imperial Guards. The original roof had been of slate, but it became obvious that it had been re-roofed in copper panels after the earthquake. It was decided to restore the exterior of the building to its original appearance. Inside, the structure would be strengthened, with new reinforced concrete walls applied on the inner sides of the exterior walls. The architect Yoshiro Taniguchi was, however, responsible for the design of the exhibition rooms on the second floor. He had also designed the main National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, building, which opened in 1969, and was a trustee of the museum.