A view of Tokyo from the Mori Art Tower
Tokyo is a major destination for tourists from all over the world, drawn in by the cleanliness of the city, efficient public transport system and amazing food. However, this city also boasts a vibrant art scene that was supported by Japan's economic boom in the 1980s, laying the ground work for what you see today. Japan's art scene is largely supported by private individuals and entities, which run many of the major institutions and galleries. This is why, despite the astronomical property prices, it has resulted in a unique Japanese art ecosystem that has put Tokyo on the map as one of the most exciting art capitals in Asia.
Getting around Tokyo is convenient with a world class metro system and how most locals get around the city. Although daily unlimited passes are available for purchase at the airport, it can actually be more expensive to travel on these passes as they do not cover all lines. Instead, purchase an IC card (Suica cards at JR stations and Pasmo at non-JR stations), which acts as a pre-paid card and lets you swipe over a card reader. Taxis are easy to find, but can be expensive. If you really need a car, you can always use Uber, which currently only operates in the city of Tokyo.
The best time to go to Tokyo is in Spring when the famous cherry blossoms are in full bloom, which you can track using an app on your phone these days. You can even catch Art Fair Tokyo, which runs during the month of March. If not, the next best time to go would be during the Autumn season, when the maple and gingko trees turn the city into a flaming yellow and red. Try and avoid summer, which is terribly hot and humid, as well as winter, which can be rather cold.
Property in Tokyo is notoriously expensive, which is why it can be quite pricey to stay in the city. If you are planning to use the metro station, try to stay near areas with a major interchange or multiple subway stations within walking distance. Check Airbnb for some great deals – there are some amazing properties located in Shibuya and Shinjuku. However, language can be a barrier in Japan, so you might prefer the comfort of a 24-hour concierge service. If this is the case, then a hotel such as Hotel Century Southern Tower with its fantastic view of the city might better suit your needs.
Japan has a vibrant local art scene, and Tokyo is the nucleus of this activity. If you have limited time in the city and want to set aside just a day to go gallery hopping, I highly recommend making a trip to the area of Roppongi, in the district of Minato, as there is a high concentration of art galleries in the area, as well as two major art institutions you can visit (see below).
Wako Works of Art
Piramide Bldg. 3F 6-6-9 Roppongi, Minato-ku, 106-0032
Established in 1992, Wako Works of Art has a roster that runs like a who’s who of contemporary artists: from Fiona Tan and Yuji Takeoka, to Gerhard Richter. Originally located in Hatsudai, it moved to its current location in the upscale area of Roppongi Hills in 2011 with an expanded exhibition space.
6-5-24 Roppongi, Minato-ku 106-0032
Complex 665 opened in 2016 and has become a new art destination. Housing three major contemporary art galleries: ShugoArts, Tomio Koyama Gallery and Taka Ishii Gallery, it is set to become a must-visit for contemporary Japanese art.
2F, 6-5-24, Roppongi Minato-ku Tokyo, 106-0032
ShugoArts is one of the newest kids on the block in the neighbourhood of Roppongi, but certainly not the youngest gallery having been established in 2000 by founder Shugo Satani. The gallery shows an eclectic range of contemporary Japanese and international artists from Cartsen Höller to Ritsue Mishima. It has since also added a curated selection of artists from the broader Asian region – such as Lee Kit and Jung Yang – to their roster.
Tomio Koyama Gallery
2F, 6-5-24, Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 106-0032
One of Japan’s most well-known contemporary galleries, you can expect shows that showcase both emerging and established artists from all around the world at Tomio Koyama Gallery. However, like most Japanese galleries, you can expect a focus on Japanese artists such as Yoshitomo Nara, Kishio Suga and Mika Ninagawa.
Taka Ishii Gallery
6-5-24 3F Roppongi Minato-ku Tokyo #106-0032
Finally, but definitely not least, is Taka Ishii Gallery a contemporary art gallery that specializes in photography by major Japanese and international artists such as Nobuyoshi Araki, Daido Moriyama and Thomas Demand. Their space in complex665 will be their second and newest location in Roppongi, showcasing an expanded programme that includes other artistic mediums from a growing roster of artists.
Clear Edition & Gallery
2F 7-18-8 Roppongi, Minato-ku 106-0032
Founded by Yoichi Nakamuta, Clear Edition & Gallery features a combination of contemporary design and art. Hence, their programme is usually relatively experimental, featuring artists from the Asian region, as well as Europe and Australia.
Ota Fine Arts
3F Piramide Building, 6-6-9 Roppongi, Minato-ku 106-0032
Ota Fine Arts
Image courtesy of Ota Fine Arts
After being a mainstay in Ebisu, Ota Fine Arts moved to the neighbourhood of Roppongi. The gallery is well-known for being one of the early proponents of internationally acclaimed artist Yayoi Kusama. In recent years, Ota Fine Arts has sought to achieve a more regional representation of artists which include Christine Ay Tjoe, Nobuaki Takekawa, Chen Wei and Tang Dixin.
2-12-4-1F HigashiAzabu, Minato-ku 106-0044
Set up in 2008, Take Ninagawa is one of the contemporary art galleries of what is considered the ‘post-Kiyosumi-Shirokawa generation’. It features both emerging artists and well-known artists such as Shinro Ohtake and Danh Vo. Head over from here towards Shirokane for more galleries.
Kodama Gallery | Tennoz
3-1-15 Shirokane, Minato-ku 108-0072
Kodama Gallery | Tennoz opened in Osaka in 1998. It has since expanded and moved, finally settling with two spaces in Tokyo – one in Shirokane and one in the Terrada Art Complex in Tennoz. Kodama Gallery provides some diversity, with representation focused on Kyoto and Osaka-based artists.
Kaikai Kiki Gallery
Motoazabu Crest Building, B1F 2-3-30 Motoazabu, Minato-ku 106-0046
Kaikai Kiki Gallery is the brain-child of Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami. The gallery has a roster of resident artists who have become well-known in their own right, such as Mr., Chiho Aoshima and Aya Takano. The gallery also shows works by artists such as Mark Grotjahn and Seonna Hong.
Shibuya Ibis Building, B2F 2-17-3 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku 150-0002
Formerly known as Nanzuka Underground, Nanzuka has a reputation of being an alternative to the more traditional galleries in Japan, often showing emerging artists that focus on creativity. The gallery works with some well-known post-war artists, such as Japanese pop artist Keiichi Tanaami.
Scai the Bathhouse
Kashiwayu- Ato , 6-1-23 Yanaka, Taito- ku 110-0001
Housed in a former bathhouse that is over 200 years old, Scai the Bathhouse is one of the most established galleries. It represents Japanese artists such as Kohei Nawa, Tatsuo Miyajima and Mariko Mori, as well as international heavy-weights like Lee Ufan, Jeppe Hein and Anish Kapoor. The antiquated architecture of the gallery gives it a traditional Japanese minimalism that makes the gallery worth visiting for just the building alone.
5-1-10 Ginza, Chuo-ku 104-0061
Located in the luxurious shopping district of Ginza is Whitestone Gallery, one of the pioneer galleries in Japan, with a history of about 50 years. Their mission has been to introduce local talents in the worldwide context, which is the reason behind their heavily Japanese roster of artists including Hiroshi Senju and Kazuo Shiraga.
Mizuma Art Gallery
2F Kagura Building, 3-13 Ichigayatamachi, Shinjuku-ku 162-0843
Executive Director Sueo Mizuma opened Mizuma Art Gallery in Tokyo in 1994. Since then the gallery has continuously presented artists from Japan and, increasingly, the surrounding region, whose works possess distinctive sensibilities unaffected by fleeting stylistic trends. Matching the rapid expansion of Asia’s contemporary art market, Mizuma Art Gallery opened additional spaces in Beijing and in Singapore’s Gillman Barracks in 2008 and 2012 respectively.
2-14-19 Kanda-, Chiyoda-ku 101-0051
Gallery Kogure is run by Hiroshi Kogure who previously worked at an art gallery in Tokyo for 18 years before opening his gallery. The gallery regards Japan as a starting point and shows Japanese artists exclusively. Gallery Kogure has a sister gallery space, Lower Akihabara, Tokyo, as well as in Tribeca, New York.
Aoyama | Meguro
Hosei Building 1F, 2-30-6 Kamiguro, Meguro- ku 153-0051
Founded in 2004, Aoyama | Meguro is located in a warehouse with a loft-like exhibition space, focusing on young contemporary artists. They are part of the New Tokyo Contemporaries collective that includes galleries like Urano and Take Ninagawa, which have all been opened by young directors with previous gallery experience.
Misako & Rosen
Kita-Otsuka 3-27-6, Toshima-ku, Tokyo, 170-0004
Husband and wife duo Misako and Jeffrey Rosen opened Misako & Rosen in 2006 and are also founding members of the New Tokyo Contemporaries art organization. Misako & Rosen is situated inside of Tree-ness House, a new project by renowned Japanese architect Akihisa Hirata. The gallery presents work by a mix of both local and international artists that cater to more adventurous collectors.
Terrada Art Complex
1−33−10 Higashi-Shinagawa, Shinagawa- ku 140-0002
Terrada Art Complex is an art facility managed by Terrada, a warehouse company. Currently, Terrada Art Complex is occupied by galleries: Kodama Gallery | Tennosz, Takuro Someya Contemporary Art, and Yuka Tsuruno Gallery. Another two gallery spaces, Scai Park by Scai the Bathhouse and Kosaku Kanechika, are on the 5th floor of the complex. KOTARO NUKAGA was also launched in 2018, existing as a space that challenges the contemporary society and the art scene of today together with their artists. Tennozu is an up-and-coming area, with more art facilities opening up in the area making it a place to watch and a destination in its own right.
Terrada Art Complex is also home to ANOMALY, which incorporates three galleries - YAMAMOTO GENDAI, URANO and Hashimoto Art Office. ANOMALY seeks to create one extended matrix that reaches out of our comfort zones as a whole new gallery, with their newly built space that facilitates multi-purposed programs of all scales. ANOMALY's 2019 program will open in March.
Arts Initiative Tokyo
3-21-6 1F Twin Building, Daikanyama B-403, 30-8 Sarugaku- cho , Shibuya-ku 150-0033
Begun by a collective of six art curators and organisers in 2001, Arts Initiative Tokyo is a non-profit space that organizes various artistic programmes and projects. Located in the hip locale of Daikanyama – it is a mere 5 minute walk from the famous Daikanyama T-Site – Arts Initiative Tokyo often holds exhibitions, artist talks, and meetings in the converted Japanese storehouse.
3-20-13 Jingumae, Shibuya, 150-0001
Also in the Shibuya district is Vacant, a multi-purpose space set up in 2009 by No Idea, an event-planning organisation. The space includes an independent gallery, event venue, café and store. Vacant usually hosts underground exhibitions by local emerging artists, as well as other events.
Hara Museum of Contemporary Art
4-7-25 Kitashinagaw , Shinagawa- ku 140-0001
Originally the private estate of business tycoon Kunizo Hara, the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art hosts about three to four exhibitions annually, showcasing domestic and international art. It also has a few permanent installations that take up entire rooms, including a Yoshitomo Nara room. Also check out Café d’Art, which overlooks the museum courtyard and features a specially designed image cake inspired by the ongoing exhibition.
Mori Art Museum
53F Roppongi Hills, Mori Tower 6-10-1, Minato-ku
Located on the 53rd floor of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, Mori Art Museum is known for its blockbuster exhibitions featuring Takashi Murakami, Carsten Holler, Olafur Eliasson, Ai Weiwei and many more star artists. It also has a bar, café, shop and panoramic observation deck with a view of Tokyo Tower.
21_21 Design Sight
9-7-6 Akasaka, Minato-ku 107-0052
21_21 Design Sight has been directed by famous Japanese designers Issey Miyake, Taku Satoh, and Naoto Fukasawa since it was established in 2007 in Tokyo Midtown. Aptly designed by internationally acclaimed architect Tadao Ando, the institution is a homage to the importance of design. In 2017 it opened its Gallery 3 extension to celebrate its 10th anniversary.
The National Art Center, Tokyo
7-22-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku 106-8558
The National Art Center, Tokyo spans an impressive exhibition space of about 14,000 square meters, featuring an iconic wavy glass façade designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa. It does not maintain a permanent collection, but has an impressive programme with exhibitions that have featured works by Yayoi Kusama, Andreas Gursky and Man Ray.
3-7-6 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku 150-0001
The small museum Watari-um was designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta for the Watari family in 1990. Its iconic triangle shape at the corner of the street in Shibuya houses an art bookshop and a café in the basement. It hosts about four exhibitions a year, which have featured retrospectives of Joseph Beuys and Nam June Paik.
The National Museum of Modern Art Tokyo
3-1 Kitanomaru- koen , Chiyoda-ku 102-8322
The National Museum of Modern Art Tokyo presents an alternative historical narrative to MoMA, focusing on Japanese art from the turn of the 20th century onwards. It also has a Crafts Gallery. It is recommended to visit the museum during spring, as its location near the Imperial Palace makes it ideal for viewing the cherry blossoms.
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Any views or opinions in the interview are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.
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