The best works of art captivate people across borders throughout the ages.
This article looks at two modern art venues that have drawn the attention of people in Japan and around the world, as well as Japan’s greatest museum that lets you go back through history to enjoy Japanese classical artwork.
teamLab Borderless: An Ever-Changing, Cutting-Edge Digital Art Gallery
Situated in Tokyo’s Odaiba, teamLab Borderless is popular among people in Japan and around the world as a cutting-edge digital art gallery. Some 2.3 million people have visited in the first year since its opening in June 2018. About half of the visitors had come to Japan from over 160 countries.
All artwork displayed at the gallery is made by the digital art group called “teamLab.” The location is very different from what you would expect from a regular art gallery. With 10 thousand square meters of floor space, the venue is like a labyrinth. There are dazzling CG videos projected onto the elaborately designed walls and floor, making you feel as if you are walking inside a kaleidoscope. The videos are projected onto your face and clothes as well, in an endless stream of flowers and water currents. You are sure to take photos that you will want to post on social media.
Forest of Resonating Lamps is the most popular installation, featuring an enormous number of lamps hanging from the ceiling that shine in ever-changing colors. In Universe of Water Particles on a Rock where People Gather and Waterfall Droplets, Little Drops Cause Large Movement, digital water and flowers fall down like a waterfall and flow away. The stream of water and flowers move around the visitors walking through the venue. This creates a constantly changing pattern that makes for a novel sight.
Forest of Resonating Lamps (teamLab Borderless)
Universe of Water Particles on a Rock where People Gather and Waterfall Droplets, Little Drops Cause Large Movement (teamLab Borderless)
Wander through the Crystal World features LED lights that appear to fall down like rain, only to rise upward again. The lights reflect off a mirrored floor, giving the illusion that you are standing in outer space. Weightless Forest of Resonating Life is another wondrous installation, where you find yourself surrounded by giant balloons. The balloons change colors or make different noises when you touch them, and these colors spread to the other balloons.
As you might expect from the name “Borderless,” the art gallery has no divisions or separators between each work of art. Each artwork mixes into the others, and the mysteriously shaped animals that you see in one installation may follow you as you walk out through the corridors, or you may meet them again in another room.
Wander through the Crystal World (teamLab Borderless)
Weightless Forest of Resonating Life (teamLab Borderless)
Tokyo’s Toyosu has another art gallery from teamLab called “teamLab Planets” that is open for a limited period up to fall 2020. This venue displays other artwork by teamLab.
In addition, an art gallery was opened in November 2019 in Shanghai as an expansion of the concept for teamLab Borderless. The group has many more permanent exhibits outside of Japan.
Drawing on the Water Surface Created by the Dance of Koi and People - Infinity (teamLab Planets)
Moving Creates Vortices and Vortices Create Movement (teamLab Borderless Shanghai)
Visit Many Works of Art Scattered across Naoshima, an Island in the Seto Inland Sea
This section describes one more place where you can look at famous modern artwork.
This location is an island called Naoshima in Kagawa Prefecture. A modern art festival called “Setouchi Triennale” is held once every three years, and Naoshima serves as one of the locations for this festival. Naoshima has many art galleries, and also features outdoor exhibits like Akakabocha (Red Pumpkin) by Yayoi Kusama, one of Japan’s leading modern artists. The island is also home to the Art House Project, where artists work in ongoing activities to renovate empty houses located around Naoshima's Honmura district and make them into works of art.
Yayoi Kusama’s 2006 artwork Akakabocha in an outdoor exhibit situated at a port (Miyanoura Port, Naoshima, Kagawa Prefecture) Photo: Aochi Daisuke
Haisha (Dentist) from the Art House Project: Shinro Ohtake’s Dreaming Tongue/BOKKON-NOZOKI (Naoshima, Kagawa Prefecture) Photo: Kenichi Suzuki
The Chichu Art Museum is one of the galleries on the island. It is built underground in order to preserve the beautiful scenery of the Seto Inland Sea, and it displays artwork by Claude Monet, Walter De Maria, and James Turrell. The venue is well-lit despite being underground, letting you enjoy the artwork illuminated by natural sunlight.
Chichu Art Museum (Naoshima, Kagawa Prefecture) Photo: Mitsumasa Fujitsuka
Inside the Chichu Art Museum. Photo: Mitsumasa Fujitsuka
Another venue on the island is called Benesse House Museum, a mix between a hotel and an art gallery. The ANDO MUSEUM features a space enclosed by undecorated concrete walls inside a traditional Japanese wooden residence. This museum displays artwork by Tadao Ando, the architect who designed the Chichu Art Museum, the Benesse House Museum, and other art galleries.
Benesse House Museum (Naoshima, Kagawa Prefecture) Photo: Tadasu Yamamoto
ANDO MUSEUM (Naoshima, Kagawa Prefecture) Photo: Tadasu Yamamoto
Naoshima features many areas with lush nature and it has a warm climate with little rain throughout the year. As such, you may like to rent a bicycle to travel around once you arrive at the island. It takes one and a half hours to take a tour of the whole island, and it is easy to find the artwork scattered around the Naoshima when riding on a bicycle.
Look Back to Art from the Past at The Tokyo National Museum
Lastly, this section describes a place where you can look at Japanese classical artwork.
Situated in Tokyo’s Ueno, the Tokyo National Museum collects, stores, and exhibits Japanese and Oriental artwork, archeological material, and other cultural treasures.
The museum always has several planned and special exhibitions on show, and its regular exhibitions also display a selection of its vast collection with more than 110 thousand pieces.
The Tokyo National Museum’s collection includes 89 National Treasures (objects designated as treasures of the people by the government according to Japanese legislation). You can gain a thorough enjoyment of historical Japanese beauty just by looking at these National Treasures alone, with a wide selection of artwork including Buddhist paintings, statues of Buddha, India ink drawings, ceramic ware, and swords.
Kujaku Myo-o Zo is a painting of Kujaku Myo-o sitting on a peacock. Kujaku Myo-o, or Mahamayuri, is the deified form of a peacock, an animal known to eat venomous snakes and harmful insects. The calm expression on the face of Kujaku Myo-o is the highlight of this painting. The India ink drawing Tokei (Winter Landscape) in Shuto Sanzui Zu (Autumn and Winter Landscapes) depicts a person hobbling forward alone beneath towering cliffs that almost seem to envelop the small figure. This work is by Sesshu, a painter who traveled across many locations in Japan and China. You can feel the bitter cold of winter just by looking at the picture.
Kujaku Myo-o Zo, a Japanese Buddhist painting from the 12th century that is designated as a National Treasure (Tokyo National Museum)
Tokei, one of two India ink drawings from the late 15th century to the early 16th century, collectively called Shuto Sanzui Zu and designated as a National Treasure (Tokyo National Museum)
Kaen Doki (Tokyo National Museum)
Apart from artwork designated as National Treasures, the museum’s collection also includes many other precious pieces that were produced across an extensive period in Japan’s history. For example, the Kaen Doki is an earthenware vessel with a flame-shaped rim and is thought to date back to about 3000 to 2000 BC. To us in the present day, it shows the burning passion for design felt by the people of that time.
Monkey Noh-Men (Tokyo National Museum)
The Monkey Noh-Men is a Noh-Men from the Edo Period (1603–1868). A Noh-Men is a mask used in a type of play called Noh featuring songs and dancing. This mask is used to play the role of a monkey. It has a humorous appearance, but it also expresses a mixture of emotions in the monkey’s face, as if it were troubled by something.
Sandaime Otani Oniji No Yakko Edobei, designated as an Important Cultural Property (Tokyo National Museum)
Sandaime Otani Oniji No Yakko Edobei (Otani Oniji III as Yakko Edobei) depicts an actor who appeared in plays in the Edo Period. It was created by Toshusai Sharaku, a mysterious Ukiyo-e Shi who was only active for ten months from 1794 to 1795. An Ukiyo-e Shi is a type of artist who drew designs to be used in woodblock printing at the time, and who also drew original paintings. This work conveys the air of tension present in the actor’s performance.
Go on a Journey to Experience Art in Japan
Japan has many excellent works of art, ranging from beautiful creations from antiquity to modern art pieces. You can experience Japanese history and culture, and even the country’s cutting-edge technologies through this wide selection of artwork. Why not travel across the country with a theme to visit Japan’s art venues?