1. 'Really LARGE Clock' | Time Out Tokyo
    Photo: Studio Ghibli'Really LARGE Clock' Ni Tele Really Big Clock
  2. Kohei Nawa ‘White Deer’
    Photo: Kisa ToyoshimaWhite Deer
  3. Daniel Buren ‘25 Porticos: The Colour and its Reflections'
    Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa25 Porticos: The Colour and its Reflections

Best public art sculptures in Tokyo

Get out of the museum – Tokyo has plenty of artworks that are free to see out in the open. By Matt Schley and Kaila Imada

Written by
Time Out Tokyo Editors
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For art lovers, Tokyo is one of the top destinations in Asia with countless museums, contemporary art galleries and exhibitions. But that doesn’t mean you need to pay a premium to see some of the best art in the city – heck, to see these masterpieces, you don’t even have to go indoors. Here’s our list of some of the best outdoor art around town.

RECOMMENDED: Explore the best outdoor art museums and parks in Japan

Art and the city

Daniel Buren ‘25 Porticos: The Colour and its Reflections’
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Daniel Buren ‘25 Porticos: The Colour and its Reflections’

This installation by French conceptual artist Daniel Buren is located along a spacious walkway between two apartment blocks in Odaiba Marine Park. Overlooking Tokyo Bay, the artwork is made up of 25 striped porticos, or gateways, installed at intervals – they come in various heights and colours, with the two ends featuring mirrored walls. When standing between them, the structures elegantly frame the nearby surroundings.

Leandro Erlich ‘Cloud’
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Leandro Erlich ‘Cloud’

This piece by Argentinian artist Leandro Erlich doubles as an optical illusion of sorts and is stunning to visit during the day, but even more so at night when it’s lit up with LED lights. The piece sits outside the Iino Building in Kasumigaseki and gives this otherwise business-centric area a whimsical touch. Known simply as ‘Cloud’, the installation features a cloud floating inside a glass box, which is created by carefully lining up ten pieces of glass stained with ceramic ink.

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Kimiyo Mishima ‘Work 2012’
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Kimiyo Mishima ‘Work 2012’

This larger-than-life trash can by Japanese artist Kimiyo Mishima is located in front of Toyoko Inn Tokyo on Tennozu Isle. The 2.5m-high trash can is inspired by the large amounts of consumer waste that we produce on a daily basis. You’ll even recognise many of the brands in the ‘garbage’ such as Coca Cola and Asahi beer. Mishima's work turns consumers’ everyday garbage into breakable pieces of art – each piece of trash is made from fragile ceramic.

Hiroshi Sugimoto ‘Sundial’
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Hiroshi Sugimoto ‘Sundial’

Part of Sugimoto's Mathematical Models series, this towering sundial is located in the heart of Otemachi outside Otemachi Place. Standing 11m tall, the sleek aluminum structure is Sugimoto's way of showcasing mathematical equations as real, physical objects. The artist has a number of public artworks on display around the capital including another sundial at Oak Omotesando.

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Jaume Plensa ‘Roots’
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Jaume Plensa ‘Roots’

You’ll find this eye-catching sculpture by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa outside Toranomon Hills in the Oval Plaza. The outdoor space is the ideal spot to show off this staggering 10m-high installation, which expresses global culture and the ties that bind people together. Titled ‘Roots’, the human-shaped sculpture is made up of characters from eight different languages including Japanese, Latin, Chinese, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, Hindi and Russian.

Kohei Nawa ‘White Deer’
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Kohei Nawa ‘White Deer’

This stunning deer installation by Kohei Nawa is a permanent fixture at Tokyo Garden Terrace Kioicho. Standing at 6m in height, the animal is a beautiful contrast with the historical Akasaka Prince Classic House in the background. Often considered as sacred animals in Shinto and Buddhism, this deer was brought to life by using 3D scanning technology. The sculpture was first unveiled at the 2017 Reborn Art Festival before finding a home in Kioicho.

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Last July, teamLab Planets Tokyo in Toyosu debuted their monolith-like sculpture showcasing a digital waterfall. On April 7, the sculpture was transformed into ‘Universe of Fire Particles Falling from the Sky’ and free for anyone to see outside the museum. The monolith now features bright red and orange flames tumbling down, similar to volcanic eruption. Like other teamLab artworks, it is also influenced by human presence. When a person steps onto the floor panel, the shape of the flames changes to create a ‘black absolute presence’ behind the person's feet. 

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  • Nishi-Shinjuku

A public installation by renowned American artist Robert Indiana, this large expression of love can be found outside the entrance of Shinjuku i-Land. The work is a sculptural recreation of Indiana's famed typographical pop art image of the 1960s, and has grown to include a series of similar installations scattered across various cities in the world, including New York, Bilbao, Taipei and of course, Tokyo.

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  • Roppongi

One of the city’s most iconic outdoor sculptures, Louise Bourgeois’ ‘Maman’ (‘Mum’ in French) at Roppongi Hills greets visitors to the Mori Art Museum. Towering over 10.23m high, this massive spider was created as a tribute to Bourgeois’ mother (both weavers, you see). ‘Maman’ comes complete with a sac of marble eggs attached to her body, and she has siblings too, which you can find spidering around at the National Gallery of Canada, the Guggenheim in Spain, London’s Tate Modern, and the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul.

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Inges Idee ‘Growing Gardener’
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Inges Idee ‘Growing Gardener’

This quirky, cheerful sculpture of a gnome dwarfed by his ludicrously long red hat is the work of German art collective Inges Idee and can be found near Osaki Station. He's a fun one to catch and will certainly bring a smile to your face – you can sometimes even spot him while you're passing Osaki Station on the JR Yamanote Line.

Hayao Miyazaki ‘Ni-Tele Really Big Clock’
Photo: Studio Ghibli

Hayao Miyazaki ‘Ni-Tele Really Big Clock’

Located outside the Nettle Tower in Shiodome, this massive copper and steel clock is designed by Hayao Miyazaki, the co-founder of Studio Ghibli. It's no surprise that it reminds us of something from his film ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’. Come see this large mechanical clock in action at 12noon, 3pm, 6pm and 8pm (plus 10am on Sat, Sun and public holidays).

 

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  • Shinjuku

This large sculpture by Yoshiko Miyashita inside the passageway at Shinjuku Station witnesses over a million commuters pass by every day. The most eye-catching piece of public art in town, it’s been around since 1969. You can find this one inside Shinjuku Station below the Subaru Building. 

Godzilla
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

Godzilla

Those less fussed about fine art and more in the mood for tracking down the king of monsters should first make their way to Kabukicho, where a Godzilla head towers over the Toho Cinemas movie complex. For more Godzilla goodness, head to Hibiya Chanter Square, where a 1.2m-tall Godzilla has been guarding the area since 1994. 

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Works by Taro Okamoto
岡本太郎『明日の神話』

Works by Taro Okamoto

One of Japan’s most noted avant-garde artists, Taro Okamoto is perhaps best known for the ‘Tower of the Sun’ sculpture he contributed to Osaka during its famous 1970 Expo, but there are examples of his work scattered throughout Tokyo too. ‘Tree of Children’ (1985), a series of happy faces extending from tree branches, can be found, appropriately enough, in front of the National Children’s Castle in Aoyama (which unfortunately closed in early 2015).

Then there’s the ‘Young Clock Tower’ (1966), created four years before the Osaka Expo, which stands in Sukiyabashi Park in Ginza. Try to check it out in the evening, when its tendrils light up.

And perhaps the most impressive work on the list is ‘The Myth of Tomorrow’ (1969, pictured), a colossal depiction of an atomic bomb blast. Originally created in Mexico and long assumed to be lost, the 30m by 5.5m painting was found abandoned in a building materials yard in 2003 by Okamoto’s wife. Painstakingly restored over a period of three years, it can now be seen inside Shibuya Mark City at Shibuya Station.

More art and culture attractions in Tokyo

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