These destinations for art and museum lovers are less than two hours from Tokyo, with art by Yayoi Kusama and Rothko
Tokyo is chock full of museums, galleries and public art installations, but the sheer mass of the city means it’s hard to cram in new and sizable art attractions – unless you build one underground. If you’re up for a proper cultural excursion to see rare paintings and site-specific installations, it’s worth making a day trip to the nearby prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa or Saitama for art destinations where you can also stretch your legs in nature.
From a farm with two Yayoi Kusama installations to a museum with a natural hot spring foot bath and another with a dedicated Rothko room (like the one in Tate Modern in London), here are the best places to visit on your next day off.
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Many Tokyoites see Saitama as a suburban, slightly boring counterpart of Tokyo, but don’t let city folks convince you there’s nothing exciting to see beyond our packed metropolis. Aside from whimsical nature escapes like the Moon Valley Park, Saitama became home to an impressive new arts and culture centre amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Opened in the autumn of 2020, Tokorozawa Sakura Town features a museum, park, hotel and shopping mall. The Kadokawa Musashino Museum stirred particular interest among art and design lovers ahead of its opening as it was designed by famed Japanese starchitect Kengo Kuma. While the structure’s grey stone exterior is a deviation from Kuma’s signature natural wood design, the architect has installed a stunning library on the inside with his signature timber slats, which houses roughly 50,000 titles.
A short walk outside the museum, you’ll find the Higashi Tokorozawa Park, which is home to one of the lesser known teamLab installations in Japan. This permanent exhibition is titled ‘Resonating Light in the Acorn Forest’. It’s an interactive artwork featuring ovoids that emit sounds and change the colour of their lights when people approach them.
Getting there: From Tokyo Station, take the rapid Keihin-Tohoku train bound for Oniya and get off at Minami-Urawa Station. Then, take the local Musashino Line train (to Fuchu-Honmachi) and get off at Higashi-Tokorozawa Station.
Talk about finding art in unlikely places – this 74-acre farm in Chiba has its own set of Yayoi Kusama exhibits. Kurukku Fields is open to the public and entry is free. So anyone who comes by to greet the farm’s baby animals or take part in a (paid) pizza-making workshop can also view rare, site-specific contemporary art whilst there.
There are two Yayoi Kusama installations here, and one of them is an infinity room – something you’d normally have to queue for if it’s showing in the city. Other pieces you’ll come across include Anish Kapoor’s ‘Mirror’ (2017) and Camille Henrot’s bronze ‘Derelitta’ sculpture, all of which are permanent on the property. Meanwhile, the farm also occasionally hosts temporary exhibitions at its Flacc Gallery.
Overnight plans including breakfast and dinner start from ¥13,480 per person, though you can also see what Kurkku Fields has to offer by just going for a day trip, touring the farm and sitting down for a meal at the restaurant.
Getting there: From Tokyo Station (Yaesu Exit side), take the Keisei Bus to Kisarazu Kaneda Bus Terminal and transfer onto a second bus bound for Awa-Kamogawa, which will take you to the entrance of Kurkku Fields.
This lakeside contemporary art museum was designed to harness nature and architecture in showcasing priceless 17th-20th century masterpieces. The museum is named after its founder and former president of the DIC Corporation, Katsumi Kawamura, an avid art collector who built the museum as a means to share his personal collection with other art lovers. It took 20 years for the Kawamura’s museum to come into fruition, but eventually Kawamura enlisted Ichiro Ebinara – a leading architect and personal friend – to design the facility before the museum finally opened in 1990.
Since its establishment, the museum’s permanent collection has now grown to house over 1,000 artworks. Here, you’ll find Western paintings by the likes of Monet, Rembrandt, Picasso and Renoir, whose artworks are displayed on a rotational basis throughout the year.
Look out for the gallery room dedicated to seven paintings from Mark Rothko’s ‘Seagram Murals’ series. The series was originally commissioned for the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram building in New York. In 1960, however, Rothko changed his mind about the commission and cancelled the contract two years after agreeing to the project. The 30 paintings were then split into groups acquired by different museums and art collectors around the world.
Getting there: Take the hour-long Keisei Expressway Bus directly to Kawamura Museum. Alternatively, you can take the JR Sobu Line Limited Express train from Tokyo Station to Sakura Station and take the free shuttle bus from the Kawamura Museum bus stop by the station’s South Exit.
Conceptualised by Japanese photographer and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto, this tranquil observatory near Hakone offers more than coastal views. In a 9,500sqm site dotted with mikan orange trees, this contemporary art facility features exhibition galleries as well as a Noh theatre stage and a tea ceremony room.
Sugimoto picked this particular hilltop perch to build his foundation because Odawara was once close to becoming the capital of Japan, though it was eventually passed up in favour of Edo Tokyo. The architect, however, sees potential in the city’s rich history and traditions to become a different kind of capital in Japan – one that would serve as a polestar for disseminating authentic Japanese art and culture to a modern generation.
By combining contemporary art pieces with Shinto and Buddhist structures like the Meigetsu (full moon) gate which once belonged to a temple in Kamakura during the Muromachi period, Sugimoto removes a degree of separation between ancient Japan and our modern world.
Getting there: From Shinagawa Station, take the train on the Ueno-Tokyo Line bound for Atami and get off at Nebukawa Station. Then take the facility’s free shuttle bus from Nebukawa Station directly to Enoura Observatory. Note that visitors will need to book an admission ticket at least two days in advance in order to visit the observatory.
Opened in 2010, Chiba’s Hoki Museum is Japan’s first art institution dedicated to the Realism movement. While the museum’s permanent collection only comprises roughly 300 paintings, the pieces – as well as the space they’re displayed in – are stunning enough to make this worth a day trip.
The first thing that strikes you as you approach the museum is its unique geometric architecture designed by Tomohiko Yamanashi and Taro Nakamoto of Nikken Sekkei. While the building’s futuristic exterior looks like something from a science fiction film, its inner halls have a natural and familiar feel to them, allowing viewers to peruse the artwork in a reflective and comfortable setting.
Among the featured artists, you’ll find the likes of Hiroshi Noda, Masayuki Hara, Sosuke Morimoto and Kei Mieno, with subjects ranging from portraits to dynamic Japanese landscapes. The museum also frequently hosts temporary exhibitions featuring new works of contemporary Japanese artists.
Getting there: From Tokyo Station, take the rapid Keiyo line train bound for Soga. At Soga Station transfer to the local train bound for Naruto and get off at Toke Station for a four-minute bus ride to Asumigaokahigashi.
With an abundance of natural hot springs, Hakone is often mentioned as one of the best onsen getaway, but this charming mountain town also happens to be packed with a surprising number of art attractions. Hakone is just an hour away from Tokyo if you take the rapid train, but the sheer number of galleries and museums make it worth spending a full weekend here.
The Hakone Open-Air Museum alone will require a couple hours to explore, with its stunning array of contemporary art sculptures by artists such as Henry Moore, Taro Okamoto, Barbara Hepworth and Kotaro Takamura. The museum has a permanent collection of over 1,000 pieces, roughly 120 of which are scattered across the sprawling park on permanent display. The museum even has its own Picasso Pavilion Hall, which houses roughly 300 of the Spanish artist’s works. This is also a suitable outing for families with young children as a large portion of this open-air facility also doubles as a playground.
Next, there’s the Pola Museum of Art set in the middle of a lush green forest. The facility is famous for its vast collection of French Impressionist paintings, including some pieces by Van Gogh.
For something more traditional, head over to the Hakone Museum of Art, where you’ll find ancient murals, folding screens and ceramic works sourced from Japan as well as other countries around Asia. Beyond the museum’s permanent collection of some 450 pieces, its stunning Japanese garden and outdoor cafe where visitors can sip coffee as they dip their feet in a natural hot spring bath make for an extra soothing excursion.
Getting there: From Shinjuku Station, take the Limited Express Romancecar bound for Hakone-Yumoto and ride the train directly to Hakone-Yumoto Station. If you want to explore all that Hakone has to offer, it’s worth getting the Odakyu Hakone Freepass. The pass can be used over two days and will give you unlimited rides within the Hakone area. The price (adults ¥6,100, children ¥1,100) includes a round trip to Hakone from Shinjuku Station.
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