There are several genres of art museums in Japan where, not only the exhibitions but also the building’s appearance and the surrounding scenery are magnificent. Here are 6 art museums in particular that we recommend.
The Nezu Museum is an art museum built to preserve and display collections of Japanese and other Asian antiques and artworks that were gathered by Kaichiro Nezu, Sr. (1860-1940). He was a Japanese businessman who accomplished quite a lot in his lifetime, including becoming one of the early presidents of Tobu Railway. The museum’s collection of about 7,400 items contains 7 national treasures, 87 important cultural properties and 94 major works of art. A large roof reminiscent of traditional Japanese-style houses was newly established in 2009 at the impressive main building, designed by one of modern Japan’s exemplary architects, Kengo Kuma. There is a Japanese garden on the museum’s vast premises that shows a variety of appearances from season to season. The inside of the garden is dotted with tea rooms so after appreciating the fine arts, we recommend taking a stroll around. Every year, around the middle of April to the middle of May when the Japanese iris is in bloom, the national treasure masterpiece “Irises” folding screen by Korin Ogata is a must-see.
1. Nezu Museum (Tokyo)
Located inside the lush green grounds of Ueno Park, the National Museum of Western Art focuses on works by 19th century impressionists like Monet and Renoir, early 20th century French paintings, and Rodin’s sculptures. With the “Matsukata Collection” as its base, the museum collects and exhibits Western paintings from around the end of medieval times to the 20th century as well as modern French sculptures. It is Japan’s only Western art specialty Museum. Throughout the year, these artifacts are displayed in the main building, annex and front garden (the exhibits are changed periodically). Also, the main building was constructed based on the designs of one of the representatives of the early 20th century architecture Le Corbusier’s concept of a “museum of unlimited growth”: as the collections expand, the building will also expand. This historical structure was designated as “Important Cultural Property” in 2007. The National Museum of Western Art is aiming to be registered as a World Heritage building in 2016. So from hereon, this spot will be receiving more and more attention.
2. National Museum of Western Art (Tokyo)
The Ota Memorial Museum of Art is an ukiyo-e specialty museum that houses the ukiyo-e collection amassed by Toho Mutual Life Insurance Co. former president, the late Ota Seizo. The focus of that collection is works from famous ukiyo-e artists like Hokusai Katsushika, Utamaro Kitagawa and Hiroshige Utagawa. The collection’s substantial contents with masterpieces spanning the beginning of the Edo period to the Meiji era, traces the history and development of ukiyo-e. In terms of scale, it boasts of being the world’s leading personal collection of ukiyo-e artwork. There are two exhibition rooms located on the 1st and 2nd floor, with both rooms being used and with an emphasis on following the theme of the collection, approximately 80 works of art are displayed throughout. In the Harajuku area that’s constantly bustling with people, it has an almost unbelievably tranquil atmosphere enabling you to calmly appreciate the ukiyo-e to your heart’s content.
3. Ota Memorial Museum of Art
With a spacious roof that commands an extensive view of the Northern Japanese alps, the Azumino Chihiro Art Museum is an art museum showcasing not just the works of picture book artists from around the world but also the works of Japanese artist and picture book illustrator Iwasaki Chihiro. Inside the building, in addition to the exhibition space, the “picture book room” with approximately 3,000 volumes of picture books that you can read freely, a kids' space, and the Picture Book Cafe in which you can eat while gazing at the beautiful scenery of Azumino. This is a place that parents with children can enjoy the whole day at. Also, in front of the museum is the Chihiro Park that boasts an expanse of 36,500㎡. Since you can enjoy the beautiful flowers from season to season, how about gazing at the scenery loved by Chihiro while reflecting on her worldview?
4. Azumino Chihiro Art Museum (Nagano Prefecture)
In November 1997, based on the designs of the world famous architect I.M. Pei, the MIHO MUSEUM was established as though it were an Eden springing to life in the midst of Shiga prefecture’s abundant nature. It is also known for its unique design in which 80% of the building's archirecture is located underground in consideration for preserving the surrounding environment. The focus of the museum is stone carvings and handicrafts that span an extensive range of regions and time periods from Ancient Greece in the West, to China and Japan in the East. There are over 2,000 artefacts in its possession with about 500 being displayed at a time. This is a recommended spot for passing a moment in time in the luxury of a place separated from reality while surrounded by fine quality works of art. Due to it being an Eden located in a remote area, the opening hours are limited so don’t forget to check beforehand on their official website!
5. MIHO MUSEUM (Shiga Prefecture)
The Otsuka Museum of Art was established in 1988 in Tokushima Prefecture’s Naruto City and as Japan’s largest permanent exhibition place, it is a famous art museum. Exhibited here are over 1,000 world-famous masterpieces held in over 190 museums in 25 countries throughout the world. Through special technology, ancient frescoes are painstakingly recreated on full-sized ceramic plates. On these ceramic plates, unlike paper or canvas, the colors won’t degrade over time, thus preserving the vivid state of the colors indefinitely. Since all of the works have been reproduced in full size, it is difficult to understand just by looking at a picture record or video. So one of the features of this museum is the ability to experience the magnitude and scale of the original artwork. What’s particularly amazing is that many pieces which, by their nature are impossible to relocate such as ancient relics and ruins or church frescoes, can be reproduced as they are in their environment and exhibited three-dimensionally. It gives you virtually the same feeling as looking at the real work in its actual location, with the same intensity and presence. It is a highly recommended museum which is sure to leave you fully satisfied if you go.
6. Otsuka Museum of Art (Tokushima Prefecture)
What did you think? Not only can you experience these excellent collections in Japan but also museums with beautiful gardens, museums designed by famous architects, museums with delicious cafes and much more museums with lots of added value. Take yourself to many different museums and find your favorite.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.