The Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, an Architectural Miracle in the Heart of Tokyo

The Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum is renowned as a jewel of Art Deco architecture in Japan. Once a year, the building itself—a designated National Important Cultural Property—becomes an exhibition, with visitors able to learn more about this iconic architectural work.
The salon on the first floor is particularly lavish, with striking decor by artists such as René Lalique and Max Ingrand.

An Art Deco Masterpiece

The Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum is considered a masterpiece of Art Deco architecture. The tasteful building, constructed in 1933 as the main residence of the Asaka branch of the former imperial family, is located in Shirokanedai, Minato City, an area lush with greenery.

The building passed through multiple hands following World War II, serving at one point as the residence of Prime Minister Yoshida Shigeru, then as a state guesthouse, before opening to the public in 1983 as a museum under the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The building, which underwent three years of renovations, was reopened in 2014. Ever since, the museum has been home to mainly art exhibitions, as well as an exhibition held once a year to showcase the building itself. These exhibitions place the building and its architecture center stage, with visitors able to view rooms that are usually closed to the public.

The glass door at the main entrance is one-of-a-kind, created by René Lalique specifically for this building. The natural stone mosaic on the floor was designed by the Construction Bureau of the Imperial Household Ministry, which was responsible for designing the building and supervising the construction process.
In the anteroom connecting the main hall and the great hall is the Perfume Tower, created by Henri Rapin, who designed and was responsible for much of the decor of the residence.

A Collaborative Effort: Japan and France's Massive Undertaking

One aspect said to have prompted Prince and Princess Asaka to design their residence in the Art Deco style was their visit to the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts (also known as the Art Deco Exposition) during their stay in Paris in 1925. Art Deco is a decorative style that swept through the United States and Europe, particularly France, in the 1920s to 1930s, influencing everything from architecture to interior design, crafts, and fashion. In contrast to Art Nouveau, a style characterized by organic forms, Art Deco is known for its linear designs, geometric motifs, and symmetries.

Upon returning to Japan, Prince and Princess Asaka, drawn to the beauty and sophistication of the Art Deco style, commissioned French artist Henri Rapin, putting him in charge of the design and decor for much of the residence. The Construction Bureau of the Imperial Household Ministry was responsible for design and supervision, as well as some of the decor. All in all, over 100 people were involved in this joint project between Japan and France.

Oki Kana, curator at the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, said,

"While there were French artists who were directly involved in the design process, the building itself really deftly incorporated a lot of Japanese elements. This is a major difference that sets it apart from other works of imperial architecture."

The walls of the first-floor main hall are comprised entirely of walnut, giving the room an air of stately elegance. The 40 lights and arched openings set in the ceiling are examples of the symmetrical arrangements favored in the Art Deco style.
The expansive first-floor Grand Dining Hall, which served as the setting for meals with guests, overlooks the garden. The chandelier is a work by René Lalique called "Pineapples and Pomegranates."
Prince Yasuhiko's study on the second floor. It is said that this study was also a favorite of Yoshida Shigeru, who resided in the building for seven years beginning in1947, first as foreign minister then as prime minister. The furniture and carpet were designed by Henri Rapin.

Lavish Decor Throughout

The first floor, which was used mainly for entertaining guests, is decorated throughout with decor by the leading French artists and designers of the time, including Henri Rapin, who designed the building; René Lalique, Max Ingrand, and Raymond Subes. The elaborate parquet, mosaic tile floors, and the stately marble staircase—the handiwork of engineers from the Construction Bureau of the Imperial Ministry—are also sights to behold. The decor, a culmination of the work of France and Japan, as well as the countries' artists, craftsmen, and engineers, continues to captivate people today.

The mural above the fireplace in the Great Dining Hall is a work by Henri Rapin. The room also features food-related motifs, such as the plant pattern by Ivan-Léon Blanchot on the wallpaper on both sides of the mural.
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The main staircase located in the center of the building leads up to the second floor, with its Japanese-style Art Deco atmosphere. The railings and spandrel walls of this staircase are made with white, brown, and black marble.

Peek into the Luxuries of the Time

The Looking at Architecture exhibition recreates some of the building's original atmosphere, complete with drawing room furniture and the dining set-up in the Great Dining Hall, offering a glimpse into the elegant lifestyle its former residents once enjoyed. Also of note is the fact that the curtains, which are kept closed during special exhibitions in order to protect the works on display, are left open during this exhibition. Walk around the building as the light streams in through the windows, and gaze out onto the garden to feel for yourself the captivating energy of the space. The exhibition also allows visitors to enter rooms that are not usually accessible to the public, such as the small library next to the study.

The Looking at Architecture 2022 exhibition allows visitors a glimpse into the small library next to the study. Photo: Yosuke Owashi
The veranda, which was used exclusively by Prince and Princess Asaka, offers a magnificent view of the lawn and Japanese garden. Also eye-catching is the checkered floor, made with Japanese marble.

The Looking at Architecture 2022 exhibition is held alongside the Encounters with Art Deco Books exhibition, located in the main building—the former residence of the Asaka family—as well as the annex, which opened in 2014.

The curator of the museum, Yoshida Naoko, said,

"The exhibition will feature over 200 items, including documents on the Art Deco Exposition and books on the French decorative arts—items we've spent a long time collecting as part of our research—as well as receipts and certificates from Prince and Princess Asaka's stay in France, and the Asaka family's journals. These rare books have been placed in various rooms in the main building, with the intent of creating a sort of collaboration between the design of the building and the design of these books."

Renovations to the interior of the building have been kept to a minimum in order to preserve the integrity of this unique gem of Art Deco architecture. Bask in the dignified atmosphere of the space, and rediscover its beauty.

Exterior view of the main building of the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum (former residence of the Asaka branch of the imperial family). The exterior of the building features a modern design with influences from modernist architecture. On the south side of the building lie the expansive lawn, Japanese garden, and European garden.
The annex, which opened in 2014 with contemporary artist Sugimoto Hiroshi as advisor. This has enabled large-scale exhibitions, with the museum hosting a variety of exhibitions that use both the main building and annex.

Looking at Architecture 2022
Encounters with Art Deco Books

Duration: April 23 - June 12, 2022
Venue: Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum
TEL: 81-50-5541-8600
Hours: 10am - 6pm (admission until 30 minutes before
Closed: Mondays
Admission fee: ¥1,000
*See website for details
Interview and writing by Sato Kiyo
Photos courtesy of Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Museum
Translation by Amit