The best ongoing exhibitions in Tokyo
Olafur Eliasson: Sometimes the river is the bridge
Olafur Eliasson does epic like few others. The Danish-Icelandic artist’s first Tokyo show in ten years will see breathtaking installation pieces from throughout his career fill the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo’s vast halls. Eliasson’s grandiose works demonstrate both his masterful manipulation of light and geometry, and deft incorporation of phenomena from the natural world. ‘Beauty’ (1993), in which a rainbow emerges in a darkened space, is just one such highlight.When Eliasson, a passionate environmentalist, captures the monumental power of nature, it’s for a specific reason: to make it explicitly clear that THIS – this glorious, miraculous planet with its winds, rains and rocks – is precisely what we’re systematically destroying by letting it melt, crack and fall apart. This is epic environmentalism and, yes, it’s sublime.
Peter Doig exhibition
Contemporary Scottish figurative painter Peter Doig is having his maiden exhibition in Japan at the National Museum of Modern Art Tokyo, where you can see a range of his works, from his earliest to some of his most recent. His style draws on artists like Paul Gaugin, Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Edvard Munch while incorporating imagery inspired by movie scenes and advertisements to create art with a romantic yet mysterious feel. The highlights are his overwhelmingly large paintings that span over three metres wide, making you feel as though you are part of the scene.
Secret Source of Inspiration: Designers’ Hidden Sketches and Mockups
21_21 Design Sight, a sleek Roppongi venue dedicated to contemporary design, is offering a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse at the working processes of some of Japan’s foremost practitioners of industrial design, architecture, interactive development and more. All 26 current members of the Japan Design Committee (established in 1953) have shared work-in-progress sketches, drawings and mockups to form an exhibition that reveals the essence of creativity. Highlights include sketches by starchitect Kengo Kuma showing the seeds of ideas for some of his current projects, and prototypes by Fumie Shibata, known for her work for Muji and the Nine Hours capsule hotel chain.
Prismatic Cloud at Ginza Six
The ritzy Ginza Six department store will be decked out with a mesmerizing cloud-like art installation created by Japanese designer and artist, Yoshioka Tokujin, from February 27 until the end of October. His works have been displayed all around the world including at the Musée d'Orsay and the Art Institute of Chicago. Recently, Tokujin turned heads with his designs for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic torches. As the name Prismatic Cloud suggests, Tokujin’s gigantic sculpture is made from over 10,000 white prism rods dangling from the top in the centre of the building, creating the illusion of a cloud hovering just below the ceiling.
Yasumasa Morimura: Ego Obscura, Tokyo 2020
One of the last chances to enjoy an art venue that is among Tokyo’s most pleasant: the Hara Museum, which occupies a distinguished European-style former residence dating back to the 1930s, is set to close at the end of this year. Artist Yasumasa Morimura has, as this show documents, spent the past three decades using photography, film and performance to retrieve his ‘self’ from layers of accumulated national, cultural and personal history. Across work sure to resonate with the Instagram generation, for whom every selfie involves a degree of ‘performance’, Morimura shows himself in the guise of figures as diverse as Marilyn Monroe and infamous author Yukio Mishima: the latter is depicted staging his failed 1970 coup d'état just before committing ritual suicide.
Ainu and Ryukyu
The Ainu are Japan’s indigenous people who live in the northern island of Hokkaido. Before they were conquered by the Japanese, they lived autonomously by hunting, fishing and gathering while trading with merchants from neighboring civilizations. They have held their own rich and distinct culture for centuries, but were largely marginalized under shogunate rule during the Edo period. The Museum's extensive Ainu collection was acquired from the Bureau for the Vienna World Exposition in 1875 and features ritual items used by the Ainu people, as well as jewelry, rich tapestries and wooden figurines. The Ryukyu Kingdom was a kingdom in the subtropical islands of Okinawa that was ruled as a tributary state of China from 1429 to 1879. Its culture was strongly influenced by trade, especially with Japan, China, Korea, and Southeast Asia. The Museum's diverse Ryukyu collection includes items purchased by the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce from Okinawa Prefecture and those donated by private collectors.
Best arthouse and independent cinemas in Tokyo
Arthouse cinemas in Tokyo are a thing of beauty. Away from the commercial chains you’ll find some of the loveliest, buzziest and friendliest movie houses. The films on show are often more interesting too, with retro classics, indie gems and the odd documentary offering an alternative to Hollywood’s latest CGI fest. Here are our favourite places in town, all of them guaranteed to reignite your love of a trip to the flicks. Also see: How to watch five films for under ¥6,000
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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.
The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
This is an alternative-history MoMA, one consisting mostly of Japanese art from the turn of the 20th century onwards. Noteworthy features of the permanent collection are portraits by early Japanese modernist Ryusei Kishida and wartime paintings. The 1969 building, designed by Yoshiro Taniguchi (father of architect Yoshio Taniguchi) was renovated in 2001. Its location next to the moat and walls of the Imperial Palace makes it a prime stop for viewing springtime cherry blossoms and autumn foliage. Nearby is the Crafts Gallery, an impressive 1910 European-style brick building, once the base for the legions of guards who patrolled the Imperial Palace.
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.
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.