Nagano and the Arts
Over the years several internationally-acclaimed artists have called Nagano home. With it’s rugged, mountainous landscape surrounded by spectacularly beautiful sprawling nature, it’s not hard to see how the prefecture has in the past, and continues to inspire creativity among its artistic community.
Nagano is completely landlocked, surrounded by mountains with an abundance of hot springs, historic towns and castles, its majestic scenery often leaves visitors to the region feeling invigorated and inspired.
In this article we will focus on three artists, all of whom resided in Nagano at some stage of their artistic careers. We will go into detail about how one can see their works in Nagano today.
We will start with one of Japan’s most famous artists in contemporary popular culture, Yayoi Kusama. Born and raised in the city of Matsumoto, which is located in central Nagano.
Kusama is perhaps most famous for her series of polka-dot clad pumpkins that can be found in various locations across Japan, the most famous of which sits beside the ocean in the port of Naoshima island.
“A Pumpkin” by Yayoi Kusama
Kusama was born in Matsumoto in 1929. As a child, she struggled with a condition that made her experience visual hallucinations on an almost daily basis.
Her mechanism for trying to cope with this often-traumatic experience, was to jot down what she was seeing in a series of notepads. Not only did this help her communicate her condition with those around her, but it also turned out to be the beginnings of a lifelong career in the visual arts as people started to marvel over her elaborate and unusual drawing style.
As she turned from a child into a young woman, she held several exhibitions in Matsumoto, where visitors were fascinated by the scenes she portrayed from her unusual and unique world. She quickly garnered attention in Tokyo where she was invited to also show her work, and before long, people overseas started to take notice too.
“Love forever series” by Yayoi Kusama
“ENDLESS LIFE OF PEOPLE” by Yayoi Kusama
In 1957 she decided to take her art to the US, where she settled in New York City for some sixteen years. She continued to document her thoughts and inner feelings through a series of abstract paintings often covered in brightly colored polka dots and nets.
It was during this time that she also delved into the world of two-dimensional and three-dimensional art, sculpture and performance, creating a wide and varied portfolio that crossed many genres. Her work appeals to a wide range of people on a number of levels, and purveys strong messages that deal with topics such as love and hate, life and death, and the meaning of life itself.
New York was the place that she really made a name for herself where she gained worldwide recognition. However, she decided to return to Japan in 1973, where she continues to live to this day.
“woman of Shangri-La(Infinity Nets)” by Yayoi Kusama
“Mirrored Corridor” by Yayoi Kusama
Matsumoto is now home to a permanent exhibition of her work at the Matsumoto City Museum of Art. Visitors can come and see the place where her fascinating journey began.
The museum houses a number of original pieces including lots of her early work, several installations including full rooms that depict her view on the world, and even one of her infamous yellow and black polka-dot pumpkins!
“Great Gigantic Pumpkin” by Yayoi Kusama
The Matsumoto City Museum of Art also displays work from several other native Matsumoto artists as well as hosting temporary exhibitions of artists from around the world.
Japanese Calligraphy by Shinan Kamijo, also at the Matsumoto City Museum of Art
The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday (closed Monday) from 9am to 5pm. Up-to-date information on exhibition and shows can be found online at http://matsumoto-artmuse.jp/en/
Arguably Japan’s most famous artists ever, is Katsushika Hoksai (1760 – 1849), an ukiyo-e artist, responsible for the woodblock print series “Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji”. This includes the iconic and internationally known piece “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”, often referred to as simply “The Great Wave”.
This print is instantly recognizable and secured Hokusai widespread fame both domestically and around the world.
The Hokusai Museum in Obuse
Hokusai was born into an artisan family in Edo (present day Tokyo) in the mid eighteenth century, but traveled extensively in Japan painting scenes up and down the country.
He was inspired by Japan’s vast nature and mountainous scenery, with a particular love for the country’s greatest peak – Mt. Fuji. Upon invitation from a wealthy merchant he finally settled in the quaint town of Obuse, located in Nagano Prefecture, where he lived out the rest of his days creating art.
It is said that Hokusai created the bulk of his masterpieces in the latter part of his life, meaning his studio in Obuse played a very important role in his legacy.
The Hokusai Museum in Obuse
Obuse is now home to the Hokusai Museum, a well-equipped and modern museum that houses and displays a wide collection of his works. This includes lots of original sketches, various paintings, woodblock prints and even two large festival floats hand painted by the artist in his later years.
The works on display allows one to get a close-up view of the fine details that went into his craft, whilst also giving oneself a better understanding of the intricate process of woodblock printing.
The Hokusai Museum in Obuse
Located just a few meters from the museum is the house that Hokusai lived in during his time in Obuse, an excellent example of a traditional Japanese house with a beautiful garden.
Also fairly close by is Gansho-in Temple that features perhaps Hokusai’s most impressive ceiling painting in its main hall. The sheer size of the painting, its bright colors and dynamic composition are a sight to behold, making it well worth the visit.
The Hokusai Museum in Obuse is open everyday from 9am to 5pm (last admission is 30 minutes before closing). However, temporany closing will occur. The next closing will be on the 31st of December.
For more information visit the museum website at http://hokusai-kan.com/en/
Rokuzan (Moriye) Ogihara
Rokuzan Art Museum in Hotaka
Rokuzan Ogihara was a sculptor active in the Meiji period of Japanese history. He was born into a family of farmers in 1879, in the rural setting of Higashi Hotaka village (now part of Azumino) at the foot of the Japanese Alps in Nagano.
His birth name was Moriye Ogihara, but he chose to be known as Rokuzan Ogihara after a character in a book by his favorite author Natsume Soseki.
Ogihara is widely considered the pioneer of Western style modeling in Japan, a genre that has gained steady recognition since he was active.
“Woman” by Rokuzan Ogihara
“The Miner” by Rokuzan Ogihara
Ogihara was a devout Christian who started his artistic career in Tokyo, moved to New York, and then to Paris to hone his skills as an artist. He also spent brief spells in Italy, Greece and Egypt before returning to his native country Japan where he lived until the age of 30. The medicine he was taking for his psoriasis contained arsenic, which ultimately lead to his death.
Although his career was short lived, he left behind a collection of works that are considered vital to the development of sculpture in Japan. Two of his masterpieces (Woman and Portrait of Hojo Torakichi) have been listed as Important Cultural Properties of Japan.
“Portrait of Hojo Torakichi” by Rokuzan Ogihara
The collection of works by Rokuzan Ogihara at the Rokuzan Art Museum
The city of azumino in Nagano is now home to the Rokuzan Art Museum, which houses a collection of his works as well as pieces by other artists who drew influence from Ogihara.
After collecting close to 300,000 donations, the main building at the museum (design based on a western style Christian church) was constructed in 1958. It is made from red brick and has stain glassed windows. One could be forgiven for thinking that it's a church from a much older era!
The museum also features the work of other artists who were influenced by Ogihara
The Rokuzan Museum is open seven days a week from May to October, and six days a week (closed Mondays) the rest of the year. Opening times are 9am – 4:10pm in Winter and 9am – 5:10pm during the rest of the year.
The museum is closed from December 21st to 31st. You can get some additional information in English at their website: http://rokuzan.jp/english/