The Nezu Museum was founded to conserve and exhibit the collection of pre-modern Japanese and East Asian art that Nezu Kaichirō (1860-1940) had passionately built. Kaichirō, a businessman whose career included being president of the Tōbu Railway Co., Ltd., was born in Yamanashi and became interested in art early in life. Upon moving to Tokyo in 1898, he displayed his abilities as a businessman and politician and expanded his field of activities to include education as well. Becoming an enthusiastic practitioner of the “way of tea” further spurred his enthusiasm for collecting, and his daring, bold approach became almost legendary. Moreover, Kaichirō did not view his collection as a private treasure trove but wish to share its enjoyment with the general public.
After Kaichirō’s sudden death, his son and heir, Kaichirō Jr., established a foundation to preserve the collection in 1940 and, in 1941, opened the Nezu Museum in its current location, which had been the site of the Nezu family residence. A great part of it, including the galleries, garden, and tea house, were lost to fire in 1945 during World War II, but the museum resumed holding exhibitions in 1946 with works of art that had been evacuated to a safer location during the war. Kaichirō Jr. worked to improve the museum’s facilities, expanding them in 1964 and renovating and expanding the museum further in 1991, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of its founding.