Prince Shōtoku was a semi-legendary figure in Japanese history. In addition to his role in the spread of Buddhism to Japan in the 7th century CE, Prince Shōtoku is also remembered for his contributions to the development of Japanese culture and governance, including the creation of Japan’s first constitution.

In the around 607 CE, Prince Shōtoku established the renowned Hōryūji Temple in Nara which includes some of the oldest wooden structures still in existence. During the Meiji era, the temple gifted over 300 of its precious artifacts to the Imperial Household and in 1964 The Gallery of Hōryūji Treasures was established to preserve and showcase these valuable items at the Tokyo National Museum. The current gallery building was designed by Yoshio Taniguchi, who was also responsible for the 2004 expansion of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures

The Digital Gallery of Hōryūji Treasures exhibit allows visitors to interact with digital content and graphical reproductions of the temple’s historic objects that cannot be displayed permanently due to their frailty. The exhibit will highlight the National Treasure Illustrated Biography of Prince Shōtoku from January 31st, 2023 to July 30th, and then the Kondō Hall Murals from August 1st to January 28th, 2024. Visitors can also see recreated versions of Gigaku masks and costumes, giving a glimpse into the vibrant world of this traditional performance art.

Recreated versions of Gigaku masks and costumes

The exhibit also offers some unique opportunities for visitors with low vision.  The large prints of the paintings are not behind glass or ropes and can be approached easily, allowing patrons to inspect the details from even a few centimeters away.  We reached out to someone with low vision to ask about the challenges of enjoying displays when visiting museums and he said that having objects behind glass and at a distance limited his ability to see the intricate details, so having large prints that he could approach much more closely would be a great help.

Graphical reproduction of the Illustrated Biography of Prince Shōtoku

To get an even closer look, the museum has utilized state of the art 8K monitors accompanied by tablets. Visitors can select the painting they want to see and then choose to look at certain scenes in detail. The selected content appears on the large monitor with an explanation and the visitor can choose to zoom in even further with familiar pinch to zoom/zoom-out controls on the tablet, opening up new opportunities for those with limited vision to get a glimpse into the past. While wheelchair users cannot approach the tablets front-on, they are at a lowered height and many users could operate them by pulling alongside the stand.

Tablet and display to access digital versions of the murals

The building itself is very beautiful and features a pathway through a reflecting pool almost as if it is to help visitors focus their minds on what is to come. A gently sloping ramp is off to the right of the entrance and leads to automatic doors.

Wheelchair slope into the gallery

Most items on display are low enough to be easily seen by wheelchair users and there is an elevator to move between floors with lowered buttons and a stool to rest on. There are chairs and benches on each floor for those who need to take a rest. Wheelchairs and walking sticks can also be borrowed if needed.

A wheelchair accessible unisex toilet is located on the first floor with an automatic door.  While there is no backrest, there is enough room to move around in a power wheelchair and the grab bars can be moved out of the way if needed.

Please see the museum’s accessibility information page for more details.

It is exciting to see an exhibit that, through the use of technology, is bringing ancient art to a much larger audience, including those with low vision.  Be sure to visit the exhibit and explore the intricate art created long ago in a level of detail that was not previously possible.

To learn more, including opening hours and admission details, etc please visit:

To prepare for your visit, be sure to watch the introduction videos here (subtitle language can be changed via the gear icon).

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