The Tokyo Arts Scene
Finding art in Tokyo outside of the main museums can be a challenge, just because it’s so dispersed and often discrete. Even if you can’t find that hidden gallery, there are plenty of options right out in the open.
If you’ve got art on your agenda, spring is one of the best times to visit Tokyo. Not only can you catch the cherry blossom but the largest art fair, Art Fair Tokyo, usually takes place in March (the 2016 fair is from May 12-14, though), while Roppongi Art Night, an all-night public art bonanza, unfolds not soon afterwards (exact dates vary per year).
The biggest art event in the region is the Yokohama Triennale, which happens every three years in Tokyo’s neighboring city. It is next scheduled for 2017.
Roppongi Art Night
There are dozens of art museums in Tokyo, ranging from the tiny and eccentric to large public and corporate spaces with big collections and budgets. Here are some recommendations.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (MOT)
Tokyo’s top public art museum has several floors, a large permanent collection, and impressive grounds. The down side is that it’s located out in Kiyosumi-Shirakawa, though the area has redeveloped since the opening of the museum, and now has plenty of cafes and shops to entertain visitors before or after an exhibition.
Mori Art Museum
Arguably the city’s premier art venue, this spacious museum 53 floors up the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower commands a spectacular view, as if the regularly changing blockbuster shows weren’t enough.
Mori Art Museum
21_21 Design Sight
In place of a national or municipal museum dedicated to design, this private museum does the trick, though it doesn’t have a permanent collection so you should check what’s currently on.
21_21 Design Sight
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
Nicknamed Syabi, this museum in Ebisu showcases both contemporary and historical work, and is a good place to catch medium-sized photography exhibitions that won’t tire your legs out too much. (Currently closed for refurbishments until fall 2016.)
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum
The Tokyo gallery scene is constantly shifting and moving, though small temporary clusters appear from time to time.
Currently Roppongi has become fashionable again. Joining the numerous museums in the area are Ota Fine Arts, Wako Works of Art, Take Ninagawa, Taka Ishii Gallery Photography/Film, and Clear Edition & Gallery—to name only a few. The IMA Concept Store is also one of the best art and photography bookstores in the city. To make gallery-hopping more convenient, several of these venues are located in the same buildings.
Surprisingly, Ginza is also a great spot for visitors to catch interesting art events. In between the old department stores and boulevards you can find the generous gallery spaces run by Shiseido and Maison Hermès. High-end fashion brands and art often go hand-in-hand in Japan. Another consistently impressive example is Espace Louis Vuitton Tokyo in Omotesando.
There are also small art districts in Bakurocho and Kanda in east Tokyo, and in Ebisu, just south of Shibuya, which has the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography and NADiff, an art bookstore and gallery.
You don’t have to go inside to see all the best examples of art exhibits around Tokyo. Keep your eyes peeled for the many hidden gems out on the streets of the city.
Once again Roppongi is a leader here. Hunt for Tokujin Yoshioka’s transparent chair sculpture or “Maman,” the giant spider by Louise Bourgeois looming over a plaza in Roppongi Hills.
Finally, “The Myth of Tomorrow” by Taro Okamoto is a giant mural with a heartfelt anti-war message. It was missing for years but now lives in the concourse leading up to Shibuya Station (Keio Inokashira Line).
The Myth of Tomorrow