Shinobazu, then and now: Bentendo in visual media (3)—Tenryumon gate in the exhibitions

The final installment of this article series on the gates of Benten Island will introduce how Benten Island and Tenryumon Gate was visually represented amid the attention of major exhibitions.

Tenryumon Gate stood for just 30 years between 1914 and 1945. Designer Ito Chuta remarked to his student Kishida Hideto that this gate was his favorite work, but the actual structure was quite small. Construction began in March 1913 and took finished in time for the opening of the Tokyo Taisho Exhibition in March 1914. The cost of construction was just ¥20,000 (approximately ¥3 million in today’s currency). [1] This was only 0.5% of the ¥3,931,200 cost of six ceremonial columns designed by Ito for the Tokyo Taisho Exhibition that were constructed in front of the main entrance to the museum, and just 0.2% of the ¥9,830,000 cost of the exhibition’s first main gate, making the gate an exceptionally inexpensive project.

Despite its small scale, the Tenryumon gate appears clearly in exhibition guides and postcards of the scenery. Materials inside exhibition collection of the Nomura Company provide a glimpse of what the gate looked like. Two illustrations in Fig 1., titled “Brilliant illumination at the Tokyo Taisho Exhibition” and Fig. 2, “Tokyo Taisho Exhibition, Illustration 4,” show that Tenryumon was a part of a colorful space of nighttime illumination and the cherry-blossom lined path to Bentendo, and fit well with the Oriental-style exhibition pavilions for Taiwan, textile arts, Japan-China trade, and the music hall. The guide to the Tokyo Taisho Exhibition (Fig. 3) displays the Tenryumon right next to the second front gate, indicating how the structure became another face of the second exhibition site at Shinobazu Pond. In the guide, Benten Island carries markings of “Tenriusan” (天リウ山), “Daikoku” (大コク) , “Bentendo” (弁天堂), and “Ryoriya” (リョリヤ), indicating its significant presence in the exhibition. Together with the cable car and fountain, Benten Island was one of the attractions at Shinobazu Pond, and provided a shortcut through the pond across the Kangestukyo bridge.

The mega-event Tokyo Taisho Exhibition drew to a close in July 1914. During the Peace Commemorative Exhibition, held between March 22 and July 31, 1922, Tenryumon continued to be used as a path across the pond. An image in the postcard collection assembled by research Hayashi Joji entitled “Peace Commemorative Exhibition: Second venue seen from the top of the peace tower” (Fig. 4) shows Tenryumon clearly pictured as the entrance to Bentendo and the center of the festivities.

Benten Island and Tenryumon can also be seen in other early-Showa pictures and postcards. Three images from the collections of the Edo Tokyo Museum  and the Tokyo National Modern Art Museum, Koizumi Kishio’s “Spring rain on the shore of Shinobazu pond” (1929-1937), Yoshida Hiroshi’s “Tokyo 12 studies of Tokyo: Shinobazu Pond” (1928), and Kawase Hasui’s “Twenty Views of Tokyo: a sketch of rain at Shinobazu Pond” (1929) (Fig. 5-7) depict Tenryumon surrounded by willows in the rain.

These images tell us about not only Tenryumon’s location and appearance, but how it was recognized and beloved as a landmark of Tokyo. Although the gate only existed for 30 years, it’s construction reflected the shift of Ueno Park away from Kanei’ji towards Shinobazu Pond. Bentendo and Tenryumon were destroyed in the Great Tokyo Air Raid of March 10, 1945. In 1958, Bentendo was rebuilt in an octagonal style out of reinforced concrete, but Tenryumon remains unseen, except for what remains in these documents.

[1] Bank of Japan consumer price index (1914: 0.620; 2015: 103.5)


103.5/0.620 X 20,000= 3,338,709



「東京大正博覧会イルミネーションノ壮観」 局部。乃村工藝社博覧会コレクション。

Fig. 1: Brilliant illumination at the Tokyo Taisho Exhibition


「東京大正博覧会イルミネーションノ壮観」 局部。乃村工藝社博覧会コレクション。

Fig. 3: From the “Tokyo Taisho Exhibition Guide” in the exhibition collection of the Nomura Company


Fig. 4 絵葉書「平和記念東京博覧会 平和塔上より見たる第二会場全景」。林丈二所蔵。

Fig. 4: Postcard of “Second venue of Peace Commemoration Exhibition seen from the top of Peace Tower,” from the collection of Hayashi Joji.

Fig. 5 「東京拾二題 不忍池」, 吉田博, 昭和3年 (1928)。江戸東京博物館収蔵。

Fig. 5: “12 studies of Tokyo: Shinobazu Pond” by Yoshida Hiroshi, 1928, in the collection of the Edo Tokyo Museum.

Fig. 5 「東京拾二題 不忍池」, 吉田博, 昭和3年 (1928)。江戸東京博物館収蔵。

Fig. 6: “Twenty views of Tokyo: A sketch of Shinobazu in the rain,” Kawase Hasui, 1929, in the collection of the Edo Tokyo Museum.

Fig. 5 「東京拾二題 不忍池」, 吉田博, 昭和3年 (1928)。江戸東京博物館収蔵。

Fig. 7: Reprint of “48. Spring rain on the shore of Shinobazu Pond” from 100 views of Showa Tokyo, Koizumi Kishio, 1929-1937. Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art.

Works cited

Yanesen Kobo, Shinobazu Pond Encyclopedia (Shinobazu no ike jiten), 1989.

Tokyo Prefecture, Administrative Report on the Tokyo Taisho Exhibition, first volume, “Chapter 7: Construction expenses,” 1916, pp. 121-125.

Kurakata Shusuke, “On the early architectural process of Ito Chuta—Ito Chuta’s designs as seen in early-Meiji plans, part 1,” Nihon kenchiku gakkai keikakukei ronbunshu dai558go, 279-284, August 2002.

Ito Chuta Kenchiku Sakuhin, Ito Hakase Sakuhinshu Kankokai, Tokyo: Jonan Shoin, 1941.

Suzuki Hiroyuki, ed., Ito Chuta wo shitteimasuka, Matsudo: Oukokusha, 2003.

Kishida Hideto, Kenchiku Gakusha Ito Chuta, Tokyo: Kangensha, 1945.

作成者  | 2016-09-06 (火)
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