The first known novel written anywhere in the world is The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu. It’s not known exactly when it was written but there is a reference to it in a diary dating from 1008AD making it at least 1000 years old. The Tokugawa Art Museum’s main claim to fame is a complete illustrated edition of the novel dating from the Twelfth Century. So precious are these scrolls that they are kept hidden from the fading power of the sun and the cheapening presence of tourists. Each November faxsimilies of select sections are put on display and draw crowds countrywide.
Genji is not the only reason to visit the Tokugawa museum and garden. The Tokugawa family are more familiar to history as the Shoguns, the military rulers of Japan from 1603 to the Meiji Restoration in 1868. The family, including the first Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, hailed from what is now Aichi Prefecture, and it is here in modern day Nagoya that their treasures and heirlooms have been collected and put on display.
The exhibits in this 12000 piece collection are pretty much as you’d expect – weapons, armour, lacquerware, furniture, Noh costumes – and although there is English signage, details are thin on the ground. Like all museums in Japan, if you know little of the country’s history, many of the items are likely to be meaningless. Beautiful, but meaningless. For those, like myself who are keen students of history, there is much of interest. The building itself is of traditional design and a joy to walk through.
If you are of a less historical bent, the gardens may offer up more delights. A beautifully created site of solitude in the heart of the city, this is one of my favourite places to visit in Nagoya, especially during spring and autumn, when the cherry blossom is in full bloom or the maples have turned deep ruby. Take a relaxing walk around the coy-filled ponds, picnic under a palette of colours or practice your photography in the nooks and crannies of the winding paths. It would take a real talent to produce a bad photograph in these surroundings.
In the northern part of Nagoya, combine a visit to this museum with the must-do trip to Nagoya Castle and the Nagoya Noh Theatre for a day immersed in the martial and artistic past of Japan.
To access the museum take the Chuo line for about ten minutes from JR Nagoya station to JR Ozone. The museum is another ten minutes walk from the South exit. It is well signposted. If coming from Nagoya Castle, take the subway from Shiyakusho to Ozone, both on the Meijo line. Like many places you may want to visit, it is irritatingly closed on Mondays, or a Tuesday if the Monday was a national holiday.