Ōgai’s Gate


There was once an official residence behind the gate next to what is now a walking path that stands at the northeast corner of the Nara National Museum grounds. The gate is a wooden structure with a copper shingle roof.

This is where Mori Ōgai (1862–1922) resided when in Nara. Ōgai is known as having been a novelist, a translator, and a surgeon general in the army. Towards the end of his storied career, Ōgai also served as the director of the country’s national museums from December 1917 until his passing in July 1922. During that period, he spent time at the Nara Imperial Museum every autumn.

While serving as the director of the national museums in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nara along with the Shōsōin administrative office, he spent about a month in Nara in the fall for such duties as overseeing the airing of the treasures and the imperial seal’s opening and closing; supervising the studies and repairs undertaken during that period; and providing guidance to the museum.

Since 1889, individuals with certain qualifications and of a prominent stature have been granted permission to visit the Shōsōin itself to view its treasures when the imperial seal is opened in the fall. A major contribution in the study of these treasures that Ōgai made during his tenure was extending this permission to researchers as well. In between carrying out his official duties, Ōgai often visited nearby shrines, temples, and historic sites. The nature of his time in Nara along with his deep interest in the culture and history of the ancient capital is reflected in his compilation of poems, Fifty Poems on Nara, and in his journal, Exploring the Ancient Capital (Neito hōkoroku).  

Coinciding with the completion of a walking trail in the area in 1999, the gate was repaired and a plaque naming the gate was erected. The inscription on the plaque, which reads “Ōgai’s Gate,” was carved from the calligraphy of Kono Seikō, who was at that time the abbot of Daianji Temple in Nara.

There is no trace of the large cedar that fell behind the official residence where monkeys once played
in this fleeting world.

The sharp sound of shears cutting the imperial seal’s bamboo skin; a cold dawn.

From Fifty Poems on Nara