For most of us who set out to look at art, we often think of them in cavernous indoor spaces. The static walls govern our view of the artworks that we dare not approach further for fear of the gallery sitter breathing down our necks.
Imagine breathing in crisp air and cherry blossoms caressing your cheek as the wind blows. Imagine a serene calm washing your exhaustion away as your feet propel your body forward. Imagine marvelling at the harmonious blending of human creation with nature. And yes, you can experience all this: here are 10 sculpture gardens in Japan that encapsulate delicate scenic beauty.
Stretching across 70,000 square meters of land, the Hakone Open-Air Museum continues to be one of the most captivating places in Japan since it opened in 1969. A stroll around the open-air museum will bring you in a close encounter with the sturdy organic forms created by the hands of English sculptor Henry Moore. These sculptures, made of natural materials such as wood and stone, enhance the already enchanting beauty of the environment. Aside from Moore, the museum also features impressive sculptural works by Joan Miro and Auguste Rodin. That’s not all for the space also houses a Picasso pavilion, where over 300 donated works are displayed indoors for visitors to piece together the thoughts of the man who broke tremendous ground for art. For families, there is no need to worry about the little ones getting bored. There are several outdoor interactive works meant to engage children, such as Toshiko Horiuchi’s colorful Woods of Net. If you can only visit one sculpture park in your life, this is the one to go: a definite feast for the eyes for both the seasoned art lover and casual visitor.
For Yayoi Kusama lovers, the Kirishima Open-Air Museum is the place to be. From the vibrant Flowers of Shangri-La to the larger-than-life High Heel, the museum boasts eclectic works from one of Japan’s most important living artists and also internationally acclaimed contemporary artists such as Jonathan Borofsky. Works in this museum are highly interactive and are created as a response to the environment of Mount Kurinodake and its surroundings. If you wish to spend a leisurely afternoon admiring art, this is the place where you can take your time to explore every nook and cranny in search for your next favorite sculpture.
Nestled in the heart of Shikoku island, the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum is the former studio of legendary Japanese artist Isamu Noguchi. Noguchi is best known for designing the UNESCO garden in Paris and the Moerenuma Park in Sapporo, Hokkaido. Casual art folks may know him for his Noguchi table instead, which is still highly sought after as a furniture item today. Treasures abound, this scenic sculpture park houses 150 majestic sculptural works by the late artist. If you are curious, visitors are also allowed to enter his private studio, which has been left completely intact since his passing. The art giant is also laid to rest in this garden, forever together with his creations.
The works in Sapporo Art Park make up a curious bunch. Bright, ostentatious and big, these interesting sculptures stand out from the natural scenery that surrounds them and offer fresh ways of looking. To get there, you’ll only need to take a 15-minute bus ride from Sapporo Station before you can check out diverse works by contemporary Japanese artists. Some notable ones include Isu ni Natte Yasumou (Let's Become a Chair and Rest) by Fukuda Shigeo (second picture), where the artist has good-humouredly situated yellow human-like sculptures in an undulating queue to exemplify the importance of teamwork. Whether covered in snow or falling autumn leaves, this park has much to see.
Previously a dead coal-mining town, this sculpture park features works from world-renowned sculptor Kan Yasuda on its expansive grounds. While they are precious works of art, visitors are encouraged to interact with them and use the park however they wish, be it picnicking with their family or chasing after a giggling friend. If the weather gets too hot, you can retreat indoors and enjoy Yasuda’s works in the quaint renovated gym and school building. Just like the other sculpture parks on this list, this place is worth many second visits to fully experience the various picturesque views as the season turns.
Stretches of green and voluminous clouds, the Utsukushigahara Open-Air Museum is a wondrous sight to behold. It is the sister museum of Hakone Open-Air Museum, which is also covered on this list. To get there, you need to first climb to the top of a 2,000m tall Utsukushigahara plateau surrounded by the snowcapped mountains of the Japan Alps. Once your feet have found their bearings again, you can enjoy looking out at the expansive blue sky while taking in the splashes of color breaking through the skyline. Let your legs take you around and you’ll see more than just static sculptures - some sculptures in this open-air museum have kinetic elements that are sure to surprise.
Designed by the late artist Isamu Noguchi, the Moerenuma Park is a municipal park in Sapporo. The name of the park is a tribute to Hokkaido’s indigenous Ainu, which comes from “Moyre pet” in the Ainu language and translates to “a slowly flowing river”. The park was a trash reclamation area before the deft hands of Noguchi in conjunction with Sapporo’s city planners in 1988 transformed it into the green beauty that it is today. While Noguchi never lived to see his work, he left behind a park where sculpture and nature co-exist harmoniously, and is enjoyed by both locals and tourists for ages to come. Like the other parks on this list, seasonal changes keep it fresh and worth returning to for different experiences.
Named after the Italian master sculptor Giuliano Vangi, the Vangi Sculpture Garden Museum is located on the hillside of Mount Ashitaka and near the famous Mount Fuji. It is part of a larger multi-cultural facility of art and nature named Clematis no Oka, which aims to pass on art and culture to the next generation through its theme of “Flowers, Art Museums, Slow Food”. The Vangi Sculpture Garden Museum, in particular, focuses on reflecting Vangi’s art philosophy through designing interactive exhibitions. Visitors can expect to put on their thinking caps as they meet different sculptures on their walk around the park. In addition to its permanent collection, the park also has a designated space for rotating contemporary exhibitions. So, when you visit Mount Fuji on your next trip to Japan, remember to pop by this spectacular sculpture garden as well!
A small island within the Seto Inland Sea region, Naoshima island is home to Benesse Holdings, Inc. and Fukutake Foundation’s Benesse Art Site Naoshima. The brainchild of Soichiro Fukutake, the art space features numerous site-specific installations commissioned by Fukutake, such as Kusama’s Yellow Pumpkin. It has since become the icon that most people associate with Naoshima island. On the island, visitors can expect to see architectural wonders weaved into the natural landscape such as the Chichu Art Museum, which holds its entire collection underground so as to preserve the natural beauty of the seascape. For the adventurous, exploration will certainly reap surprising finds; aside from designated museum spaces, sculptures dot the landscape of the peaceful island, waiting to be found by curious visitors.
When you think of Nara, the images of cute deers and ancient temples would probably come to mind. However, in the heart of Murou Village, there lies a quiet forest filled with site-specific art installations by renowned Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan. Dubbed the Murou Art Forest, it is an expansive park surrounded by lush greenery and peculiar art forms. From spirals in the ground to geometric structures above water, the park exudes tranquillity and contemplation and is the perfect place for you to rest your mind and take in the fresh air. The park is also a family-friendly destination meant for all, with facilities in its visitor’s center for families to hold picnics.
Any views or opinions in the post are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.
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