National Treasures

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Standing Kômoku-ten, wooden sculpture, Heian period, Jôruri-ji, Kyoto
  • System Established: 1884
  • Japanese: 国宝 (kokuhou)

Japan maintains several hierarchies or systems of designating objects, structures, and sites as being of cultural or historical importance. Those considered to be of the greatest importance are dubbed National Treasures. National Treasures cannot be exported, and are only loaned overseas on very rare occasions.

A select few individuals considered to be of exceptional prominence or importance in maintaining cultural traditions are named Living National Treasures.


The system was established in 1884, in the Meiji period, in conjunction with efforts to create a systematized set of "national" traditions, and a national narrative of Japan's history, comparable to those possessed by "modern" nation-states in the West. The first object to be designated a National Treasure was a 7th century wooden Buddha statue held at Kôryû-ji in Kyoto.[1]

The Japanese government, which held Korea as a colony from 1910-1945, also compiled a list of "National Treasures of Korea." The Republic of Korea (aka South Korea) today retains that list, with numerous post-independence additions.

Up until 1932, the only buildings that could be designated National Treasures were Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines.[2] This was then modified to allow Japanese castles and other sites of historical importance to be added to the category.

Many National Treasures were sadly damaged or destroyed by Allied bombing, or otherwise, during World War II. Prior to that, there were 1,058 sites in Japan designated as National Treasures, incorporating 1,729 buildings.[3]

New legislation in 1950 divided the category of National Treasures into National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties, a prestigious but lower-ranking category.

List of National Treasures

Gilt bronze slippers from Eta Funayama kofun, Kumamoto prefecture. Tokyo National Museum

Archaeological Materials

Castles & Residences

Historical Documents

Other Buildings

Paintings & Calligraphy

"Parody of the Four Accomplishments" (detail), by Shibata Zeshin (Metropolitan Museum); based on the Hikone Screen, a National Treasure



The view from within Itsukushima Shrine


(See Famous Samurai Swords for a list of notable swords, including many National Treasures not listed here.)


The pagoda and Eastern Kondô at Kôfuku-ji
The shariden at Engaku-ji (in the distance)
The pagoda at Tô-ji
  • Byôdô-in (Uji, Kyoto): Phoenix Hall, 1053, shinden-zukuri architecture
  • Daitoku-ji (Kyoto):
  • Engaku-ji (Kamakura): Shariden - the oldest example in Japan of multi-storied, three-bayed, irimoya Chinese-style architecture
  • Gangô-ji (Nara): Zen-dô
  • Ginkaku-ji (Kyoto): Silver Pavilion (1489) and Tôgûdô (1486)
  • Hannya-ji (Nara): stone pagoda (13th c.)
  • Hôryû-ji (Nara):
    • Bell Tower
    • Chûmon gate
    • East and West Corridors
    • East (higashimuro) and West Dormitory (nishimuro)
    • Five-story pagoda - one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world
    • Kôdo (Lecture Hall)
    • Kôfûzô
    • Kondô - one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world
    • Nandaimon gate
    • Refectory (Dining Hall)
    • Shôryô-in
    • Sutra House (kyôzô)
    • Three Sutra Hall (sankyôin)
    • Tôdaimon gate
    • Tôin Bell Tower
    • Tôin Denpôdô
    • West Octagonal Hall (saiendô)
    • Yumedono
  • Kiyomizu-dera (Kyoto) Main Hall
  • Kôfuku-ji (Nara):
    • Three-storied pagoda
    • five-storied pagoda - second tallest pagoda in Japan
    • Eastern Golden Hall
    • Northern Octagonal Hall
  • Myôô-in (Fukuyama, Hiroshima prefecture) - main hall (hondô) and pagoda
  • Myôtsû-ji (Obama, Fukui prefecture) - hondô and three-story pagoda
  • Nanzen-ji - Large and Small hôjô
  • Negoro-dera - Tahôtô
  • Ninna-ji - Main Hall (kondô)
  • Nishi Honganji karamon gate
  • Sanjûsangendô main hall
  • Tôdai-ji (Nara):
    • Bell tower
    • Daibutsuden - largest wooden building in the world
    • Founders' Hall
    • Nandaimon gate
    • Nigatsu-dô
    • Sangatsu-dô
    • Shôsôin Imperial Treasure House
    • Sutra House
    • Tegaimon gate
  • Tôfuku-ji (Kyoto) - main gate
  • Tô-ji (Kyoto) pagoda - tallest wooden pagoda in Japan
  • Zuigan-ji (Matushima, Miyagi prefecture) - Main Hall and Kuri

Temple Bells

Temple bell at Kanzeon-ji in Dazaifu

Textiles & Garments


Destroyed Former National Treasures

The stone gates of Sôgen-ji


  • Sensôji - Main Hall (hondô aka Kannon-dô) and pagoda named National Treasures in 1907; destroyed 1945.

Okinawa Prefecture

(See also National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties in Okinawa)

  • Engaku-ji - named a National Treasure in 1933; destroyed in 1945. Rebuilt gates and bridge named Important Cultural Property in 1975.
  • Naminoue Shrine temple bell - cast 956, named National Treasure 1907; destroyed 1945.
  • Oki Shrine - named a National Treasure in 1935; destroyed 1945.
  • Shureimon at Shuri castle - named a National Treasure in 1933; destroyed 1945.
  • Shuri castle - named a National Treasure c. 1925; destroyed 1945.
  • Sôgen-ji - named a National Treasure in 1933; destroyed 1945.
  • Main hall of Sueyoshi Shrine - named a National Treasure in 1936; destroyed 1945.


  • Gallery labels and explanatory plaques at various sites.
  1. This sculpture has traditionally been identified as a depiction of Maitreya (J: Miroku), but today many scholars suggest that the identity of the figure is unclear. Conrad Schirokauer, et al, A Brief History of Japanese Civilization, Wadsworth Cengage (2013), 29.
  2. Loo, Tze M. “Shuri Castle’s Other History: Architecture and Empire in Okinawa.” The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus 41 (12 Oct 2009).
  3. Suzuki Kakichi, Miyamoto Chôjirô and Ushikawa Yoshiyuki. "Ryûkyûan Architecture: Its History and Features." in Okinawa bijutsu zenshû 沖縄美術全集. vol. 5. Okinawa Times, 1989.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Designated in 2009. Kokuhô no bi 50, Asahi Shinbun shuppan (2010), 22-23.
  5. Designated in 2001. Kokuhô no bi 50, Asahi Shinbun shuppan (2010), 14-21.
  6. 所蔵資料紹介:貴重書, Historiographical Institute, University of Tokyo.
  7. Exhibition checklist, "Chinese Paintings from Japanese Collections," LACMA, May 10 2014.
  8. Albert M. Craig, The Heritage of Japanese Civilization, Second Edition, Prentice Hall (2011), 57.
  9. You can see all the objects on the museum's Digital Museum page.