10 of the best art museums in Japan
The Guardian – Brilliant gardens and buildings, coupled with great art make these spectacular – and affordable – museums an absorbing visit
Mori Art Museum, Tokyo
One of Tokyo’s most constantly innovative art museums, the Mori Art Museum occupies the 52 and 53rd floors of the 54-storey Roppongi Hills building. The museum has no permanent collection; it features instead an ever-changing collection of temporary installations and artworks. The largest-ever solo exhibition by Japanese installation artist Shiota Chiharu runs until 27 October, showcasing her famous large scale installations using yarn, but also video footage of performances, photographs, drawings and performing arts-related material. Upcoming exhibitions include one on what it means to be human, exploring AI, robotics and our future lives (19 Nov – 29 March).
Tickets to the museum include access to the 52nd-floor Tokyo City View observation deck and the rooftop Sky Deck.
• Adult ¥1,800 (£13), child ¥600 (£4.50), mori.art.museum
Hakone Open Air Museum, Kanagawa
Hakone is a hot-spring town an hour by express train south-west of Tokyo. Among wooded hills and mountains, with Mount Fuji not far away, the town receives more than its fair share of weekend and day trippers from the capital eager to bathe in the onsen baths and see the area’s volcanic landscape. But all visitors should allow a couple of hours to explore the seven-hectare Hakone Open-Air Museum, an outdoor gallery that features works by sculptors including Henry Moore and Auguste Rodin, as well as a collection of Picasso paintings and sculptures.
• Adult £11.50, child £6, hakone-oam.or.jp
Kofukuji National Treasure Museum, Nara
Within the grounds of Kofukuji temple in Japan’s former capital of Nara – 45 minutes south of Kyoto by train – the Kofukuji National Treasure Museum contains an exceptional collection of Buddhist works of art including statues, books, paintings, temple bells and ritual implements. The oldest works date from the Asuka period (538-710 AD) — around the time of the temple’s founding in 669 — and many pieces in the collection are designated National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties.
• £4.50/£3, kohfukuji.com/english.html
Sapporo Art Park, Hokkaido
Sapporo is the largest city on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, and its standout museum is the Sapporo Art Park, an hour south of the city by train and bus. The leafy park is home to both the Sapporo Art Museum, which exhibits artists with strong ties to Hokkaido, and the Sapporo Sculpture Garden, home to 74 sculptures, each designed to complement its outdoor setting. Though the garden is only open from April to November, you can explore the grounds on snowshoes in winter (hire them from reception, available from 5 Jan – 10 March).
• Sculpture Garden £5/free, Art Museum rates vary according to exhibition, artpark.or.jp/en
Sumida Hokusai Museum, Tokyo
Few Japanese artists capture the imagination as well as Hokusai. The ukiyo-e (woodblock print) artist is best-known for The Great Wave Off Kanagawa and Red Fuji, two of a series titled Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. The Sumida Hokusai Museum, in the east of Tokyo, is dedicated to the artist, with a permanent gallery of Hokusai prints and temporary exhibitions introducing a greater variety of the artist’s work. Though the art dates from the 18th and 19th centuries, the museum building is a stunning example of modern architecture, designed by celebrated architect Kazuyo Sejima.
• £3/£1.50, prices for temporary exhibitions vary, hokusai-museum.jp
Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Aichi
Architect Yoshio Taniguchi, best-known for designing New York’s Moma museum, was the principal designer of the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, which houses an international collection of 20th-century works and a rotating selection of special exhibitions. The striking museum building is complemented by gardens designed by celebrated US landscape artist Peter Walker, a student of Hideo Sasaki. The best place to see the museum is from the second-floor pool; visit at dusk to see the museum and its lights reflected by the water. Toyota is 30km south-east of Nagoya.
• £2/£1.50, museum.toyota.aichi.jp
Fukuoka Asia Art Museum, Fukuoka
Fukuoka is the closest major Japanese city to mainland Asia, so it’s no surprise that the world’s largest collection of Asian art is housed in that city, at the Fukuoka Asia Art Museum. Opened in 1999, the museum has built up a permanent collection of around 3,000 works of modern and contemporary art that are displayed on rotation alongside regularly changing temporary exhibitions. Twenty-three countries are represented in the permanent collection, from Indonesia to Mongolia.
• £1.50/75p, faam.city.fukuoka.lg.jp
National museums, various locations
There are four national museums in Japan, one each in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara and Kyushu (Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture). These museums hold some of the most impressive collections of art and artefacts in the country, including a vast array of pre-modern and prehistoric works. The Tokyo, Kyoto and Nara museums were all established in the late 19th century and their buildings are impressive examples of Meiji Era (1868-1912) architecture. The Kyushu museum, by contrast, opened in 2005, and is a bold piece of modern design built to blend with both sky and mountain.
• Tokyo National Museum £4.50/£3, tnm.jp; Kyoto National Museum £3.50/£2, kyohaku.go.jp; Nara National Museum £3.50/£2, narahaku.go.jp; Kyushu National Museum £3/£1.50, kyuhaku.jp
Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto
A few minutes’ walk from Kumamoto castle, this museum focuses on domestic and international contemporary art. It’s small as museums go, being made up of three pay-to-enter spaces and a public area displaying permanent installations by Yayoi Kusama, James Turrell, Tatsuo Miyajima and Marina Abramović. Since the Kumamoto Earthquake in 2016, the museum also displays information about the region’s recovery efforts as well as local history.
• Admission varies by exhibition, camk.jp
Kubota Itchiku Art Museum, Yamanashi
The process of Tsujigahana silk dyeing, used to decorate kimonos in the Muromachi period (1333-1573) was thought lost until it was revived by the artist and dyer Kubota Itchiku (1917-2003). The Kubota Itchiku Art Museum was built by Itchiku towards the end of his life and is dedicated to his work with kimonos and other art forms. It is on the edge of Kawaguchiko, one of five lakes at the base of Mount Fuji, and comprises several buildings and a garden designed by Itchuku to blend in with the unique natural setting of the Fuji region.
• £9/£6.80, itchiku-museum.com
Brilliant gardens and buildings, coupled with great art make these spectacular – and affordable – museums an absorbing visit.