This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit

Disability Arts Online

Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park. / 20 September 2013

The last time I went to Ueno, I was asked if I had visited the park and I disappointed with my negative reply. This visit, the Tokyo National Museum is on my wish list and TNM sits in Ueno Park.
Wearing two of the marvellously effective pain-relief patches I set out.
The Park, with its museums, international art exhibitions and zoo, is a tourist magnet; the regular train station is opposite the entrance. Unfortunately the metro exit is on to the street underneath. I cross over the road to find a lift up to the elevated walkway that slopes upward to the Park.
Ueno Koen has big open spaces and masses of maps and information in Japanese and English. The day is hot and dry, I cannot spot any of the usual vending machines, so queue up at Starbucks for a drink and to get my bearings.
TNM is a complex of five (mostly large) exhibition buildings and an education and research centre, each in a very different style. My aim for this visit is to explore 'Important Cultural Property', so I get my ticket (with concession) and roll into this enclosed section of the park. 
I head into Honkan, the Japanese Gallery, which is up some very steep ramps.
I pass a person being pushed in a manual wheelchair. At the lift a one-armed man gets out before I can roll in and when I get out another powerchair'd person is waiting. All in all I notice four other wheelborne people and two people on crutches, helping to bust the myth that Disabled Japanese people are somehow kept out of public view.

It's not long before I'm completely overwhelmed just to be in the presence of things I've read about, seen in books and studied in school. It's an effort to be disciplined and not dart about drawn by one magical exhibit after another.
I start on floor two with the Dawn of Japanese Art, already aware that there is more here than I can take in in one day.
On this floor I finish with Kabuki and Noh and Ukiyo-e and fashion in the Edo Period. Down on floor one there is Japanese sculpture and, of particular interest, the folk culture of the indigenous Ainu and Ryukyu people's of north and south Japan respectively.
Ainu, many of whom are blue-eyed, have DNA links to Tibet and India's Andaman Islands and, sadly, have a history similar to that of many aboriginal people whose homeland was commandeered by 'superior forces'.

Suddenly starving I decide to lunch at a restaurant within the ticketed area as there is no re-entry. Negotiating the ramps down feels a little precarious and one of the doormen hangs on to my chair as a safety precaution. Outside the sun shines and while it is rather late for lunch, the restaurant is still serving.
I choose sashimi and get a very delicious bowl of rice with a selection of raw fish and salmon eggs.

There is time to go back in and revisit the things that were rushed as I got hungrier!
The museum has very good exhibits showing the initial influence of China and Korea on Japanese Culture and then comparing it to what developed when Japan closed its borders and dedicated itself to Japaneseness. And there is of course the Folk Culture, with history and fascinating artefacts.

The announcement that the museum will close in 30 minutes takes me by surprise, where has the time gone...
Gathering myself up to leave I am somewhat baffled when the loudspeaker begins to play Auld Lang Syne and continues to serenade visitors out of the building. I attempt the down ramps and feel the need to hang on to the balustrade as the angle is so steep the brakes don't really hold. The doorman comes running.

Back outside, finding the elevator that takes me from street level down to the return metro platform is not easy, but I do enjoy the sound of 'met-air-o' when asking directions from a local policeman.

Kosode, say kimono,
garment with small
wrist openings. The 
Thing To Wear, neat.
Uchikake, the Thing
To Wear over without
Obi. And wear and throw
away. Kabuki clothes
worn twice a day twenty-
five day season. Worn
and thrown away.
Shoganai - tough luck
for museums.