Although Tokyo is the center of Japanese politics and economy, it is also the heart of Japanese culture and contemporary art. The city has a vast amount of multi-faceted and unique galleries, which are scattered across the city. Here are Savvy Tokyo's top recommended museums and art venues worth visiting.
Mori Art Museum
At the top of a 54-story skyscraper in Roppongi, the Mori Art Museum is the behemoth of the Tokyo art scene. The museum’s inaugural retrospective of Yayoi Kusama presented a labyrinth of polka-dot-infused installations, while the current “Go Betweens” exhibition is in an attempt to look at the world through a child’s eyes. After touring the galleries, head to the observation deck on the floor below, where you’ll find unrivaled 360-degree views of the metropolis.
SCAI The Bathhouse
Tucked away in an old neighborhood of traditional wooden houses and temples in Tokyo’s east side, SCAI The Bathhouse is one of the city’s most prestigious contemporary art galleries, and possibly the best art space in the city. Although the 200-year-old former bathhouse has been renovated as a modern art space, it retains evocative details such as the wooden lockers where bathers stored their shoes before going for a soak.
Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Gallery
This exquisite Art Deco museum houses a wide variety of fascinating exhibitions. The building was constructed in 1933 as the residence of Prince Yasuhiko Asaka, and is recognized around the world as a valuable piece of cultural heritage. The museum‘s interior was designed by French designer Henri Rapin, who incorporated the work of Rene Lalique into the interior design.
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
Japan’s only museum specializing in photography and imagery features three exhibition galleries that display works of photographers and image creators from within and outside Japan, as well as 28,000 collections. In addition, films specially selected are screened in the hall on the ground floor. Other facilities at the Yebisu Garden Place gallery include a museum shop, cafe, and a library. Don’t miss the annual World Press Photo Contest, where the winning shots of over 5,000 photojournalists from around the world are displayed.
National Art Center, Tokyo
A unique and innovative art exhibition facility, the center focuses on serving as a venue for various art exhibitions instead of maintaining a permanent collection. In its 14,000 square meters of exhibition space—one of the largest in Japan—it houses several small exhibitions being run at the same time, focusing on ceramics, photography, drawings and paintings. Designed by architect Kisho Kurokawa, the center also promotes outreach activities through its educational programs, and the art library serves to collect and disseminate information related to art.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
Founded in 1926 inside Ueno Park, this is Japan’s first public museum. It holds almost 300 exhibitions every year, including those of globally recognized museums and special exhibitions with treasured works, as well as temporary and public displays. The facilities include an art lounge, where visitors can view exhibition schedules of museums throughout Japan and get other art-related information. Shops and various restaurants are also found within the center.
Opened in March 2013, the 500 m2 IMA Concept Store comprises a gallery, bookstore and cafe, and is Tokyo’s largest commercial space that focuses on photography. IMA provides the space and opportunity for young photographers from both inside and outside Japan to exhibit their work and share their philosophies through workshops, lectures, and talks. The bookshop carries over 2,000 titles, including rare photography books and a collection of independent labels that have scant distribution in Japan.
National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (MOMAT)
One of several museums and other attractions located in Kitanomaru Park, MOMAT displays an extensive collection spread out over three floors. The collection focuses mainly on Japanese modern art from around 1900 through the 1950s and 1960s, although there is also a small section of more contemporary art. Noteworthy features of the permanent collection are portraits by early Japanese modernist Kishida Ryusei and wartime paintings.
Owned and operated by department-store chain Tokyu Corporation, Bunkamura was the first large-scale cultural complex in Japan, and hosts international art blockbusters featuring subjects and artists ranging from Tintin to Picasso. Elsewhere in this major shopping and cultural center are boutiques, an art-house cinema, two theater/music spaces, an art bookshop, and various restaurants.
Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo
As Japan’s most popular museum of contemporary art, this museum houses nearly 4,500 domestic and foreign works of art. It features an array of contemporary art exhibitions, including permanent collections that allow visitors to experience the flow of the art, distinctive special exhibitions such as large-scale international exhibitions, as well as paintings, sculptures, fashion, architecture, and design. The museum facilities include an art library, where visitors can search for art-related information.