Exhibitions ending soon
Christian Boltanski: Animitas II
Leading French contemporary artist Christian Bolanski has worked extensively with Japanese themes in the past, expressing his artistic styles through sculpture, writing, film and photography. Always driven by themes of life, death and the aftermath of war, Boltanski has spent his career creating huge installations out of everyday items like clothing, photographs and cookie tins. One of his most ambitious works, the ‘Animitas' series consists of several site-specific installations in far-flung locations including Chile's Atacama Desert, featuring Japanese wind chimes that play an endless tune to the memory of lost souls. Espace Louis Vuitton Tokyo in Omotesando is showcasing two of these works – one set in a forest on Japan’s Teshima Island and another on the shores of the Dead Sea in Israel – though single shot video installations. It’s one of the most mesmerising works you’ll see in Tokyo this season.
Legendary Chair Craftsman, Shigeki Miyamoto
Shigeki Miyamoto is the first Japanese chair maker to become a professional furniture designer. His works, made in collaboration with architect Zaha Hadid and graphic designer Taku Satoh, have become well known around the world. The Lixil Gallery in Kyobashi is exhibiting some of his best creations. From designing to material selection to repairing, the broad range of Miyamoto’s achievements with chairs will be on display.
Exhibition of Miniature Objects
Get an up-close look at retro miniatures from the pre-war period. Roughly 1,500 miniature objects made by craftsmen from the Meiji era will be on show. The exhibition will be centered around the Minoru Nakata Collection, which consists of about 800 custom-made miniatures. You will also be able to see the Kurata Collection, which is comprised of 600 pieces, and features toys, dolls and everyday tools from the Edo period. As the exhibition is displayed at the Tobacco and Salt Museum, it's only fitting that it also features a ‘Miniature Smoking Collection’, which is a collection of roughly 20 items related to smoking from the Edo period.
The best ongoing exhibitions in Tokyo
Vincent van Gogh
How did Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) become the world-famous iconic artist? Van Gogh died at the young age of 37, and 10 years of his life were devoted to painting. He didn’t pursue art until the age of 27, when he was accepted at The Hague School, which had a perceptible influence on him and would continue to inform his style even after his move to Paris. From the sunflower series to ‘The Starry Night’, van Gogh’s works are notable for their visceral and vibrant colours as well as expressive, powerful brushstrokes. During the short ten years, van Gogh had produced more than 2,000 paintings, most of them now hanging in many famous museums and galleries around the world. This new exhibition at the Ueno Royal Museum explores the period of his life at The Hague School, which was fascinating yet relatively unknown. Around 40 works by van Gogh plus 30 more by The Hague masters and the Impressionists are on display.
Sense Island – Sarushima Dark Art Island
The uninhabited Sarushima Island in Tokyo Bay (near Yokosuka) is transformed into an art site with a myriad of works from Japanese and international artists, all of whom are inspired by the island’s history as well as its geographical and topological features. The exhibition is an exploration of our human world and it aims to ‘regain the senses that humans have lost over time’. This exhibition is a nighttime experience, and the tickets come with a return ferry trip. On the natural island you can still see the remains of a Western-style battery built during the Meiji period (1868-1912), as well as caves that still retrain traces of the Yayoi civilisation, an ancient ethnic group that migrated to Japan during the Yayoi period. Sarushima is the perfect spot to forget about modern technology and time, which makes it perfect for some self-reflection as you enjoy the art. Participating artists include creative unit Wild Dogs, which has projects around the world, as well as Akinori Goto, who is famous for his sculpture series on time called ‘toki-’ which was partially produced by 3D-printing technology. Get your tickets to Sense Island here.
Exhibition of Smells
While most exhibitions are visual, this one invites you to use your nose. Everything from the sweetest scents to the most pungent odors will be featured in this unconventional showcase. The exhibition has previously attracted close to 190,000 visitors with its lineup of items such as surströmming (fermented herring) and stinky tofu, which are considered among the world’s smelliest foods. You will also be able to experience the ‘smell of stress’, a scent that many have gotten a whiff of under stressful circumstances such as during an important interview. It’s a distinct smell that was identified by researchers and scent specialists at Shiseido, which will be presented in its isolated state for the first time in Tokyo.
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
Classical & theatre
La Traviata opens with a lavish party in Paris at the house of famed courtesan Violetta Valéry. Our heroine is accustomed to her extravagant lifestyle filled with soirées and wealthy admirers, but a tragedy unfolds when Violetta falls for Alfredo Germont and must later make a heartbreaking sacrifice. Starring world-class soprano Myrtò Papatanasiu as Violetta and conducted by Ivan Repušić, chief conductor of the Munich Radio Orchestra, Giuseppe Verdi’s most romantic opera is brought to life in this three-act masterpiece. Note: This production will be sung in Italian with English and Japanese subtitles.
The Nutcracker and the Mouse King
Be whisked away to a winter wonderland in this iconic Christmas ballet composed by Tchaikovsky. This highly acclaimed classic masterpiece was taken to new frontiers when the production was revamped in 2017. Wayne Eagling's fast paced choreography adds a sense of humour to the ballet, while a richly coloured set and costumes embellish the worlds of dream and reality.
Il Barbiere di Siviglia
This witty two-act opera buffa, based on the French comedy ‘The Barber of Seville’, is Rossini’s most popular work. In this frivolous story, Spanish nobleman Count Almaviva is infatuated with the sheltered Rossina, who is already claimed by her guardian, the old and lecherous Dr Bartolo. Almaviva, determined to win Rossina, proceeds to assume a ludicrous series of disguises to be near her. While the original takes place in the 18th century, this production by Josef E. Köpplinger is revamped with a kitsch 1960’s setting. Note: Ticket sales start from 10am Oct 19.
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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.