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An insider’s tour of Japan exploring its Art and Architecture

Chinmay Vasavada By Chinmay Vasavada
19 Jan 2018
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Japan is a treasure trove of art and architecture. It is a society with great sensitivity to creativity and beauty and these inherent values shine throughout the culture.

This is true whether it’s in the most common art forms of ikebana and origami or more complex ones including ceramics, gold leaf painting, woodblock printing and fabric design. They are also reflected in how the society creates and interacts with manmade and natural spaces.


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It is therefore not at all surprising that Japan is home to some of the finest art collections and buildings in the world, making it one of the most sought after destinations for art connoisseurs. When travelling, time is of the essence and it is often a challenge to pick the right places. Here are a few of our favourite museums in Japan!

Museums in Roppongi, Tokyo:

Rapidly emerging as Tokyo’s museum hub, Roppongi is one of the city’s trendiest entertainment districts famed for its incredible museums and buzzing bars, restaurants and nightclubs.

Mori Arts Museum:

Founded in 2003 by the real estate developer Minoru Mori and designed by the renowned architect Richard Gluckman, the museum features temporary exhibitions, research projects and public events focused on modern art. It’s one of the best museums in the country showcasing the works of avant-garde Asian artists. The museum also supports upcoming artists from around the world by producing experimental projects under its famous MAM project.


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The National Art Centre:

Established in 2007, The National Art Centre is one of the largest exhibition spaces in Japan featuring temporary exhibitions sponsored and curated by other organisations. It is housed in an incredible building designed by the famous Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa, who was also one of the founder members of the Metabolist Movement.

Some of its famous past exhibitions include masterworks from the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, a fashion and architecture collection organised by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; works by Monet and Lalique, and a retrospective on Japanese government-sponsored art exhibitions held over the past 100 years.


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Suntory Museum of Arts:

Established over 40 years ago, this unique museum focuses on Japan’s antique arts and crafts related to everyday life. Rather than having a permanent exhibition focused on an individual artist or collector's perspective, the museum houses an impressive collection of over 3,000 articles under its principal theme of “Art in Life” from various sources and regions, including paintings, ceramics, lacquerware, glass and dyed fabrics.

Ceramics are the most important collection, arranged in a way as to help the viewers trace the history of ceramics in Japan. The glass collection is also noteworthy with articles from the Edo Period, European Art Nouveau period, works of Emile Galle and Qianlong glass from the Qing Dynasty in China.


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21_21 Design Sight:

Founded in 2007, this design museum is the brainchild of renowned fashion designer Issey Miyake and Japanese architect Tadao Ando. It features exhibitions, talks and workshops focused on design as an element and its positive involvement in daily life.


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The Hakone Open-Air Museum, Hakone:

Opened in 1969, the Hakone Open-Air Museum has over 120 permanent exhibits spread across a vast sculpture park and indoor galleries. It is Japan’s first open-air museum and features works from famous local and international artists including Picasso, Rodin, Taro Okamoto, Yasuo Mizui, Churyo Sato and Henry Moore. In addition to the elaborate collection, the visitors are rewarded with beautiful views of surrounding mountains and valleys.


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Miho Museum, Kyoto:

An architectural gem designed by the renowned Chinese American architect I. M. Pei, the museum is located deep in the forested hills southeast of Kyoto near Shigaraki town, close to the famous ruins of Shigaraki-no-Miya Palace. The museum is named after its founder Koyama Mihoko, one of the richest women in Japan.

More than 80% of the museum’s structure is underground in order to preserve its natural environment and surrounding scenery. On display are Asian as well as Western antiques from the founder’s private collection including a standing Buddha from Gandhara- one of the largest in the world.


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Naoshima and Teshima Islands:

These remote islands located in the Seto Inland Sea have become a must-visit destination for serious art connoisseurs, especially for those interested in modern art. Naoshima came into prominence in 1992 when the Benesse Group engaged the famous architect Tadao Ando to design Benesse House – an art complex consisting of a museum of contemporary art and a hotel.

Over the years, various projects and sites have been added and today the islands house some of the most fascinating and pioneering art collections and installations from artists across Japan. Besides Benesse House, other prominent museums and projects include Lee Ufan Museum, Chichu Art Museum and Art House Project on Naoshima Island and Les Archives du Coeur by Christian Boltanski, Teshima Art Museum, Pipilotti Rist Installation House, Particles in the AIR by Noe Aoki, Storm House and Teshima Yakoo House on Teshima Island.


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21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa:

Established in 2004, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is one of Japan’s most successfully-run museums. Its unique building, winner of prestigious architectural awards, is circular in shape and offers incredible 360 degrees panoramic views of the entire complex. Exhibits include permanent and temporary collections by local as well as international artists. Leandro Ehrlich’s Swimming Pool and Olaflur Eliasson’s Colour Activity House are two of the famous large scale works on permanent display.


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Nakamura Keith Haring’s collection Museum, Kobuchizawa:

This award-winning museum is the first and only private museum in the world to exclusively exhibit the artworks by Keith Haring – a forerunner of American contemporary art who took the 80’s American art scene by storm. The museum was established in 2007 by Dr. Kazuo Nakamura and is designed by the famous Japanese architect Atsushi Kitagawara. The collection comprises of about 200 artworks, which Dr. Nakamura has been collecting since 1988. Museum’s theme based display will not only leave a lasting impression but will also enable visitors to better understand Haring’s short but intense life.


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