Art & Culture

The best art exhibitions in Tokyo, plus features and interviews – it's your ultimate guide to the city's art scene

Interview: Komanosuke Takemoto
Art

Interview: Komanosuke Takemoto

We meet the ‘living national treasure’, who has dedicated her life to the art of gidayu-bushi

Interview: Sophie Ebrard
Art

Interview: Sophie Ebrard

We meet the photographer who's turning porn into poetry

Essential Tokyo exhibitions for spring
Art

Essential Tokyo exhibitions for spring

Immerse yourself in digital woodblock prints, study the history of Disney animation and unveil the mysteries of the tea ceremony

Interview: Kawaii goes international
Things to do

Interview: Kawaii goes international

Exploring kawaii culture around the world with a trio of top influencers

Meet Tokyo's 'cinemine' performers, Tennine
Blog

Meet Tokyo's 'cinemine' performers, Tennine

Cinema and mime, together at last

The best ongoing exhibitions in Tokyo

The Art of Eric Carle
Art

The Art of Eric Carle

'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' creator, award-winning children’s book illustrator and author Eric Carle's world can be experienced in full at the Setagaya Art Museum throughout spring and early summer. Zooming in on the theme of animals and nature in Carle's work, the exhibition also highlights the author's life and his relationship with Japan, and invites visitors of all ages to travel through a colourful world while learning about numbers, dates and the changing seasons.

Naoki Sato: Unexplored Tokyo – There, It has Grown
Art

Naoki Sato: Unexplored Tokyo – There, It has Grown

Graphic designer and art director Naoki Sato heads Asyl, his own design firm, and also played a significant role in the 2010 establishment of 3331 Arts Chiyoda, an art centre housed in an old Akihabara junior high school. A major player behind the annual Trans Arts Tokyo festival, Sato now heads back to familiar surrounds with this big-time exhibition – his first as a solo artist. 'Unexplored Tokyo – There, It has Grown' consists of large-scale drawings of plants, inspired by Sato's experiences after 3.11 and reflecting how the world changed after that fateful day, displayed all over 3331's expansive surfaces. Also set to take part in this year's Sapporo International Art Festival, Sato is a true man of the moment – start acquainting yourself with his work here.

Saidai-ji Temple, Nara: The Treasures of Eison and his School
Art

Saidai-ji Temple, Nara: The Treasures of Eison and his School

In 2015, Nara's Saidaiji Temple, a listed World Heritage site and one of this ancient capital's 'seven great temples', celebrated 1,250 years since its founding. Said commemoration also provided the spark behind this touring exhibition, which now begins its three-stop tour of Japan at the Mitsui Museum in Nihonbashi. It highlights the efforts of 13th-century monk Eison, founder of the Shingon Risshu sect of Buddhism and the man credited with restoring Saidaiji's good name after the temple had fallen on hard times during the Heian era. See treasures such as statues, scrolls and documents from the time of Eison himself as well as from later centuries, and appreciate the legacy of an artistic and spiritual school that survives to this day.

Bruegel’s ‘The Tower of Babel’ and Great 16th Century Masters
Art

Bruegel’s ‘The Tower of Babel’ and Great 16th Century Masters

Although Renaissance great Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-1569) is the only 'master' mentioned in the title of this extensive overview of 16th-century Dutch painting, it is most likely the work of the fanatically fascinating Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) that will draw crowds to the Metropolitan Art Museum between April and July. Bridging the medieval and Renaissance worlds with highly detailed, often dark and frightening pieces in which visions of hell and demons figure prominently, Bosch shocked his contemporaries and had a massive influence on artists of subsequent generations, including Bruegel. This legacy can be seen in the latter's 1563 masterpiece 'The Tower of Babel' – one of the around 90 paintings, prints, sculptures and other works from the collection of Rotterdam's Museum Boijmans that are set to be displayed here.

Orient Industry 40th Anniversary: Love Doll
Art

Orient Industry 40th Anniversary: Love Doll

Founded in 1977 as a manufacturer of mannequins and 'speciality' dolls, the Ueno-based Orient Industry has narrowed its focus quite a bit over the years, and now deals exclusively in high-grade 'love dolls'. To celebrate the company's 40th anniversary, president and founder Hideo Tsuchiya now brings his finest creations out from the basement and onto the glisteningly white premises of Shibuya gallery Atsukobarouh. You'll be able to stare at man-made women of all shapes and sizes, including some of Orient's early, less than polished models, and the dolls shot by photographer Kishin Shinoyama for his most recent show.

Dayanita Singh: Museum Bhavan
Art

Dayanita Singh: Museum Bhavan

Indian photographer Dayanita Singh takes on the Photographic Art Museum for her first solo exhibition in Japan. Having left a career in photojournalism after becoming disillusioned with the poverty-ridden, exoticised understanding of her home country held by the Western publications she worked for, Singh is now widely renowned for her creation of 'book-objects' – photo books that are also exhibitions, catalogues and pieces of visual art – which are also referred to as 'museums'. This two-part display consists of one such project and an introductory section that draws on landmark Singh pieces such as 'Myself Mona Ahmed’ (1989-2000), which focuses on India's eunuchs, and 'I Am As I Am' (1999-), an exploration of female students at a monastery in Varanasi.

See more art exhibitions in Tokyo

Upcoming exhibitions

Alberto Giacometti: Collection Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght
Art

Alberto Giacometti: Collection Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght

Continuing its star-studded tenth anniversary programme, which has already seen high-profile shows by Yayoi Kusama and Alfons Mucha, the NACT is now delivering a large-scale retrospective of Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966). Always associated with the tall, spindly, existential figures of his later years, the artist, who found worldwide acclaim only years before his death, also dabbled in surrealism, abstraction and Cubism. A total of more than 130 pieces will be on display, among them oil paintings, lithographs and, of course, remarkable sculptures including the life-sized 'Walking Man I'.

Tombeau Tokyo: Nobuyoshi Araki x Guimet Museum
Art

Tombeau Tokyo: Nobuyoshi Araki x Guimet Museum

Life, death, love, porn and cats – it all blends together in the work of Nobuyoshi Araki, one of Japan's greatest living photographers. Fresh off a remarkable retrospective exhibition at the Guimet Museum of Asian Art in Paris, the 76-year-old now heads to Chanel Nexus Hall to show off a combination of pieces from the Guimet show, takeouts from new series 'Tombeau Tokyo', a few brand-new shots and select Araki favourites from the early days of Japanese photography. Reflecting on his dramatic life and 50-year career, the Tokyo native proclaims: 'I already have one foot in the grave. I'm endeavouring to explore what kind of photos I'll take on the other side.' Having conquered prostate cancer – a battle he also documented photographically – in 2009, Araki has demonstrated that there's still plenty of life left in him. Don't miss out on what's set to be one of the controversial luminary's most significant Tokyo shows in a while.

Sunshower: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia
Art

Sunshower: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia

Roppongi is experiencing a true Southeast Asian art takeover this summer, as both the National Art Center and the Mori Art Museum dedicate their vast halls to contemporary works from across this endlessly diverse region. Focusing on art from the 1980s up to the present, 'Sunshower' is the most significant exhibition of Southeast Asian art in Japan to date and consists of nine sections, including 'Passion and Revolution', which focuses on the struggle for democracy in the post-colonial age, and 'Day by Day', a multifaceted look at everyday life in rapidly globalising and economically dynamic societies, in which the lives of the young generation are vastly different from those of their parents and grandparents. Participating artists include Malaysian photomedia creator and film producer Yee I-Lann, whose work centres on the lives of women in multicultural environments, and Jompet Kuswidananto, who represented his native Indonesia at the 2011 Venice Biennale.

Arcimboldo: Nature into Art
Art

Arcimboldo: Nature into Art

Milan-born Italian artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593) both charmed and confused his contemporaries with fanciful portrait heads made of items such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish and books. Rediscovered by the Surrealists in the early 20th century, Arcimboldo was far from an outcast in his time, working as a court painter for Habsburg emperors Ferdinand I, Maximilian II and Rudolf II in Vienna and Prague, but did make some 16th-century scholars and critics wonder whether he was crazy or just had a very vivid imagination. Centred on a trove of oil paintings borrowed from museums around the world, 'Nature into Art' also includes several related materials and works by artists influenced by Arcimboldo.

Popular features and interviews

State of the art
Art

State of the art

Exploring Roppongi and Tennozu, two of Tokyo's artsiest neighbourhoods

Interview: Kazutaro Nakamura
Art

Interview: Kazutaro Nakamura

The prince of kabuki is leading Japan’s traditional performing arts into an exciting new age

Interview: Takashi Murakami
Art

Interview: Takashi Murakami

The legendary artist on his creative process, his favourite haunt Nakano, and on why his art isn't understood in Japan

'Everyone should have a pen that was made in Japan'
Art

'Everyone should have a pen that was made in Japan'

Sisyu is Japan's calligrapher to the world – and she'll let you know how to write prettier in Japanese

What's on at...

Mori Art Museum
Art

Mori Art Museum

The exhibitions are world-class, focused mainly on contemporary culture, but the secrets of the Mori Art Museum’s success are location (part of the phenomenally popular Roppongi Hills), location (on the 52nd and 53rd floors of the Mori Tower, offering spectacular views) and location (within a two-floor ‘experience’ that includes a bar, cafe, shop and panoramic observation deck). One ticket allows access to all areas, and the late opening hours maximise accessibility. Exhibitions are deliberately varied, with past offerings including Bill Viola’s video art, a survey of the Middle Eastern art world and the periodic Roppongi Crossing group shows for Japanese artists. The vista from Tokyo City View isn’t quite 360°, and it’s expensive compared to the free Tokyo Metropolitan Government building observatory, but the views are arguably better, especially at night with a drink in your hand from Mado Lounge. If you don't mind paying an extra ¥500, you take a short elevator ride to the rooftop Sky Deck, and take in an even better – not to mention rather breezier – vista.

Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo
Art

Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo

This huge, city-owned showpiece opened in 1995 on reclaimed swampland in a distant part of Tokyo. Its collection of 4,700 international and Japanese artworks has its moments, but the temporary exhibitions are the main reason to visit. Visitors can access the database, extensive video library, and magazine and catalogue collection (all available in English).

Watari-Um Museum of Contemporary Art
Art

Watari-Um Museum of Contemporary Art

Mario Botta designed this small art museum for the Watari family in 1990. It holds four exhibitions a year, some of which originate at the museum, while others are brought in from abroad. There’s a good art bookshop and a pleasant café in the basement.

The National Art Center
Art

The National Art Center

The National Art Center was opened on January 21, 2007, boasting the largest exhibition space of any museum in Japan. Unlike most conventional domestic art galleries, the National Art Center does not have its own permanent collection, instead choosing to hold special exhibitions only. Entry to the Center’s atrium is free, and the space boasts a café, two restaurants and an excellent shop, Souvenir From Tokyo.

Tokyo National Museum
Museums

Tokyo National Museum

If you have just one day to devote to museum-going in Tokyo and are interested in Japanese art and artefacts, this is the place to visit. Japan’s oldest and largest museum houses over 110,000 items. Past the ornate gateway, there’s a wide courtyard and pond surrounded by three main buildings. Directly in front is the Honkan, or main gallery, dating from 1938, which displays the permanent collection of Japanese arts and antiquities. The 25 rooms regularly rotate their exhibitions of paintings, ceramics, swords, kimonos, sculptures and the like. The Toyokan building to the right features five floors of artworks from other parts of Asia; the Hyokeikan, the 1909 European-style building to the left, is currently closed to visitors. Behind the Hyokeikan is the Gallery of Horyu-ji Treasures, which houses some of Japanese Buddhism’s most important and ancient artefacts, from the seventh-century Horyu-ji temple in Nara. The Heiseikan, behind the Honkan, holds three to four temporary exhibitions of Japanese and Asian art each year. There are also a couple of restaurants in the complex, and a good gift shop.

Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
Art

Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum

Designed by Maekawa Kunio, this brick-faced art museum was largely constructed underground to remain unobtrusive, with limited success. Temporary shows in the main hall feature everything from traditional Japanese art to art nouveau.