An Art Lover’s Guide To Tokyo
Equal parts futuristic and traditional, Tokyo offers its visitors an endless trove of things to discover. But while the city’s legendary food culture has long hogged the spotlight, its arts scene is now stepping out of the shadows.
But with such a vast and influential arts community comes an abundance of choice. Anyone would need help navigating their way around it, so we’re here to help out. Ahead is our guide to some of the most destination-worthy Tokyo museums and arts neighbourhoods to add to your visit list.
Nezu Museum of Fine Art
Just a short walk from the heart of trendy Omotesando, the Nezu Museum of Fine Art stands as one of the most beloved among Tokyo museums.
Known for its sprawling 17,000 square meter landscape garden and traditional tea houses, the museum hosts an elegant collection of over 7,400 Japanese and East Asian artworks spanning calligraphy, paintings, textiles and rotating special exhibitions.
The Watari Museum of Contemporary Art
Boasting arguably the best museum gift shop in Tokyo, the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art is consistently referenced as one of the most forward-thinking and popular among locals.
A short walk from Harajuku, the small and unpolished spaces are dedicated to 21st Century modern art from various mediums, tracking sculpture, photography and industrial design from around the world.
Yayoi Kusama Museum
The relatively new Yayoi Kusama Museum in Shinjuku ward is a spectacular experience for lovers of avant-garde art. The museum, located in Shinjuku ward, dedicated entirely to the works of one of the world’s most elusive and eccentric artists.
Two annual rotating exhibitions often feature a comprehensive look at Kusama’s prolific catalogue, from various infinity mirror rooms to an exploration of her polka dot and pumpkin motifs. Tickets can only be purchased online and, given the museum’s popularity, are recommended to be bought well in advance.
High-end art galleries are spread throughout the storied district of Roppongi, a neighbourhood where many of Tokyo’s most famous museums, bars, and restaurants are found.
After you’ve tasted heaven at Anthony Bourdain-approved pizza joint Savoy, or ticked Michelin starred Sushi Nakamura off your list, start at the Mori Art Museum to find Tokyo’s most acclaimed collections.
Located high on the 52nd and 53rd floor of the ritzy Roppongi Hills complex, Mori Art Museum is the spot for some of the biggest rotating exhibits of Japanese and international artists in the world. Throughout its history, it has featured the likes of Takashi Murakami and Olafur Eliasson.
Lovers of contemporary art could spend an entire day emploring the many treasures in this enormous museum. Most people cap their experience by heading up to the rooftop Sky Deck, which is the highest open-air observation deck in Japan and plays hosts to a monthly public stargazing event.
The more recent Mori Building Digital Art Museum: teamLab Borderless has quickly become one of Tokyo’s biggest drawcards. teamLAB, a collective of creatives from various industries, are now global superstars thanks to numerous large-scale digital exhibitions around the world, and this museum is entirely dedicated to their works.
Roponggi is also home to a cluster of commercial art galleries. The legendary Wako Works of Art, also located in Roppongi Hills, is a must-see for its endless roster of contemporary high-concept artists, as is Tomio Koyama Gallery with its almost exclusive focus on local creatives.
Complex 665 is a relatively new complex housing three major galleries, including Taka Ishii which specialises in photography. Ota Fine Arts is a long-running institution widely known as one of the earliest supporters of Yayoi Kusama. And Clear Edition & Gallery will be your go-to for more experimental works, with a reach that often spans Asia, Europe and Australia.
You’d also be wise to check out what’s on at the National Art Center, Tokyo’s largest museum with seven massive spaces exclusively used for travelling exhibitions.
The twin neighbourhoods collectively dubbed Shimokitazawa, just a few stations from Shibuya, are known for their relaxed artistic atmosphere and colourful shutter art. Tokyo’s vast creative scene treasures this part of the city, which has been the catchment of bohemia since the 1970s, and boasts some of the best Japanese curry you’ll find anywhere.
Take a stroll around the quaint streets lined with hidden bars and independent boutiques for a real taste of life as a local creative. See a show at the historic Honda Gekijo Theatre or check out short films by emerging Japanese animation directors at the Tollywood Short Film Theatre.
After that, head on over to Shiro-Hige’s Cream Puff Factory to try a Studio Ghibli inspired Chibi Totoro Choux. Or get your caffeine fix at Frankie Melbourne Espresso which, as the name indicates, serves Australian-style coffee along Anzac biscuits and banana bread.
(Lead image: teamLab Exhibition view of MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless, 2018, Odaiba, Tokyo)
Published 22 August, 2019