Modern Art in Japan

When I think about art, many things come to mind. Art can be perceived as a tangible thing such as a sculpture or a painting, but it can also be intangible such as a song or a dance. Anything and everything in this world is a form of art. It is just a matter of how a person would perceive art to be. Now this perception can vary from person to person, culture to culture. What may be considered as artistic in one country may seem ordinary to another. It may be because of the history, the tradition, and the meaning behind each artistic culture. There are several countries that are brimming with artistic heritage and one of them is Japan.

While tourists flock to Japan mostly because of the amazing food and the beautiful sceneries that the country offers, the Land of the Sun is also home to a great artistic heritage. The country has a history of boundless artistic development that you might be interested to look into if you ever happen to visit. Their art pieces can take you places and showcase how the Japanese people embrace diversity especially when it comes to art. There is certainly no lack of appreciation of art in Japan and it has developed for many years. Modern art in the country can range from mural painting and graffitis on the street to painting and sculptures in museums. So if you are looking for something that will feast your eyes, then this country is surely a place to visit.

Japanese Art Style: From Bronze Mirrors to Zen Buddhist Sculptures

Everything has a beginning and the same goes with art. For us to be able to fully appreciate the art that we see and know of today, it is important to first learn and understand where it came from and how it evolved through the years. Art in Japan progressed through the different periods in its history. The following are the several periods that occurred and how art came to be during those eras:

  • Jomon and Yayoi Period: According to archaeologists, this is the earliest period where there were settlers in the Japanese history. The Ainu, Jomon, Yayoi people were residing in Japan during this period. What were seen as art from this era were religious artifacts like bells made from copper and bronze. Also from this age were pottery vessels and clay figures.
  • Kofun Period: Also known as the Tumulus or Haniwa period, art forms in this period were clay sculptures discovered on tombs. Another form of artifact from this era was a number of bronze mirrors.
  • Asuka and Nara Period: It was during this period that Buddhism was introduced. Hence, it was the beginning of sculptures and artifacts based on Buddhism.
  • Heian Period: The first novel in Japan was written during this period by the lady-in-waiting of Empress Akiko, Lady Murasaki Shikibu. It was also during this time that more distinct arts and literature developed.
  • Kamakura Period: The Japanese calligraphy and tea ceremony began in this era. More true-to-life and popularized art forms were also initiated during this period.
  • Muromachi Period: Also known as the Ashikaga period, Zen Buddhism flourished in this era. It highly influenced Japanese artists during that time.

Celebrating More Than A Century’s Worth of Art and Nature

There is no better way to appreciate art other than to celebrate it! Japan holds art festivals on certain occasions to let the people enjoy the modern art pieces created by locals. Places famous for their contemporary art festivals are the Okayama and Kagawa prefectures in the Seto Inland Sea. The Benesse Corporation initiated this art movement during the 90s. The three most well known islands that offer great contemporary arts are Naoshima Island, Inujima Island, and Teshima Island. As for the art festivals, be sure to check out the following:

  • Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale: This art festival began in the year 2000 and occurs only once every three years. The Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale is held in the Echigo-Tsumari region of Niigata Prefecture for a few weeks during the summer season. There are permanent installations that are seen every three years and around 100 to 200 are created and are to be displayed during the festival. Inspiration behind these art pieces is based on the elements of the environment and culture of the place. Moreover, the artworks are made by both Japanese and international artists. The next festival will be held in the year 2018.
  • Setouchi Triennale: Also known as the Setouchi International Art Festival, the concept is similar to the Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale. It also occurs only once every three years. This art festival began in the year 2010 and the next will be held in the year 2019. What sets this art festival apart from the others is that it is held on a dozen islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Hence, if you want to maximize your visit for this art festival, island hopping is a must, which is also an adventure itself.
  • Nakanojo Biennale: Unlike the two festivals above, the Nakanojo Biennale occurs every other year. It is held in the northern region of Gunma Prefecture. Mostly artists from the Kanto Region showcase more than a hundred contemporary art pieces in the festival.

Preserving Several Works of Art in Galleries and Museums

Japan Gallery 3F National Museum of Nature and Science

In most cases, art is preserved so that people even from the next generations would be able to appreciate it. Hence, museums are built just for that. Now there are museums in Japan that showcase art from the past, like old statues, sculptures, and paintings. However, as time flew by, art has also developed. Today, there are also modern art museums that offer Japanese contemporary art pieces for the aficionados of modern art not just in Japan, but also in other countries such as in Germany (check out Galerie Friedrich Müller). While there are numerous modern art museums in Japan, the following are just some of the most visited that you should not pass up on:

  • National Museum of Modern Art: This museum located in Tokyo showcases art pieces from Meiji Period onwards, all of which were created by Japanese artists. Both permanent and temporary art exhibitions also occur in this museum. It is only a few minutes walk from Takebashi Subway Station.
  • Aomori Museum of Art: Among the many famous modern art museums is the Aomori Museum of Art. It is located just downtown of Aomori City. It is quite well known for the gigantic white dog statue that is 8.5 meters tall.
  • Towada Art Center: Another great place to visit if you are looking for modern art pieces is the Towada Art Center situated just 35 kilometers from Lake Towada. It showcases art pieces from both Japanese and international artists. This will surely be a treat for lovers of Japanese modern art.
  • 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art: This modern art museum is located in Kanazawa City. As you can guess, most pieces in this museum are considered “avante-garde.” One of its most famous art pieces is the “Swimming Pool” by artist Leandro Erlich. It is prominent for the optical illusion that lets people seems to be underwater.
  • Mori Art Museum: Tokyo houses a lot of modern art museums and among the most prominent would be the Mori Art Museum. It is situated on the topmost floor of the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills. Hence, if you look outside, you will be greeted by the fantastic city view of Tokyo. The building is already a great piece of art itself, preparing guests of what’s more to come. It also houses art pieces from both local and international artists. Visiting the museum at night will let visitors also enjoy the city lights.
  • Hara Museum of Contemporary Art: Another museum in Tokyo that showcases contemporary art is this museum. Only a 15-minute walk from the Shinagawa Station, this is very accessible to Japanese modern art aficionados. It contains paintings, sculptures, and videos by both local and international artists. It also has an annex called Hara Museum ARC that is situated in Ikaho, Gunma Prefecture.
  • Hakone Open Air Museum: As the name suggests, Hakone Open Air Museum is not like the other modern art museums mentioned above. Its art pieces are situated in open air; hence, visitors can enjoy not the just artworks, but also the scenic views of the valley and the mountains. However, for those who do not wish to stay under the sun, Hakone Open Air Museum also has a number of indoor galleries with artworks on display. For families visiting the museum, there are also playgrounds designed for children to play in.

Embodying Japanese Modern Art

Some people appreciate art through just the art pieces. On the other hand, there are also people who embody art itself by creating artworks that touch or inspire other people. Now there are several contemporary artists in Japan that create art pieces that are just extraordinary. Let me introduce you to some of them:

  • Takashi Murakami: Among the country’s most famous contemporary artists is Takashi Murakami. His works are highly influenced by both animé and manga. Murakami founded the Superflat movement and the Kaikai Kiki artist collective. His works range from painting and sculptures to even fashion collaborations to Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton to name a few.
  • Usugrow: Usugrow used to create flyers in underground punk and hardcore music back in the early 90s. Through time, he has gone on to design several album covers for musicians and art pieces for skateboarding and fashion brands. He has expanded and evolved through the years and is not working on illustrations, paintings, and calligraphy.
  • Chiharu Shiota: An artist who specializes in performance and installation, Chiharu Shiota makes huge and site-specific visual installations. Her themes are usually of memories, oblivion, dreams, and reality to name a few. Recently, she had her first exhibition in Blain Soutern, Berlin on Berlin Art Week 2016, which was a huge success.
  • Yayoi Kusama: One of the most experienced artists in Japan is Yayoi Kusama. Having been in the industry for seven decades, Kusama’s works range from painting, drawing, sculpting, performing, filming, and printmaking to name a few. Through the years, the painter’s style of polka dotted art has become more distinct and later on became her trademark. Checking her art works out will definitely be worth your while.
  • Chiho Aoshima: Famous for her urban pop creatures and landscapes, Chiho Aoshima is a member of Kaikai Kiki and the Superflat movement, both of which were founded by Murakami. Her themes usually include ghosts, demons, young women, and nature.
  • Haroshi: A self-taught woodworker by hand and a skateboarder by heart, Haroshi creates his art pieces from skateboard decks. He is well known for use skateboard decks as his bases for his art works. Skateboards are carefully selected and stacked, then hard carved, painted and polished. His signature is putting a broken piece of skateboard in the core of his art work and this piece signifies the art work’s soul.

Modern Art Not Just Seen in Books

Miyanomori Museum Bottazzi exhibition

Japan also holds art exhibitions. These art exhibitions usually are held in several art museums. Art exhibitions can range from historical arts to the modern arts. Diversity can also be seen in these exhibitions as they showcase sculptures, paintings, fabrics, and other Japanese crafts such as ceramic art. These events are only open for a certain timeframe and close after a number of years. For now, here are some art exhibitions that are still open for viewing and corresponding information as to where to find them:

  • The People by Kishin: Displayed in the Fuchu Art Museum in Fuchu, Tokyo, this art exhibition showcases images taken by photographer Kishin Shinoyama. The theme of this exhibition is avant-gardism and disregard for social norms. This is definitely worth the visit for people who are looking for something outside the norms.
  • Tomoko Konoike ‘Skin, Needle, Thread: Displayed in the Bunkamura Museum of Art in Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Tomoko Konoike showcases her art works in the theme of mythical motifs. Her works are basically her contemporary interpretation of said motifs. She had collaborated with various experts in anthropology, archeology, and folklore to complete this exhibition.
  • Contemporary Japanese Crafts: The Kikuchi Kanjitsu Prize II: Displayed in the Niigata Bandaijima Art Museum in Chuo-ku, Niigata, Musee Tomo has chosen 12 artists who have made innovations in traditional Japanese crafts since she created contemporary ceramic art in the year 2003. This exhibition includes ceramics, lacquerware, and metalwork.

There is definitely a lot more that Japan can offer when it comes to art. Development of art in this country is endless; hence, visiting Japan every few years will not be the same as art evolves through time in this country. So let these modern art pieces open your mind and touch your heart and visit Japan today.