From polka-dot emporiums and oceanfront observatories to a new-generation castle museum, a raft of eclectic new cultural spaces have been showcased over the past year across Japan. Here are a few highlights that have either opened or been renovated across the country in recent months.
Scai Park, Tokyo
This new opening is the brainchild of Scai the Bathhouse, the small space with a five-star list of artists located in a former bathhouse in Tokyo’s Yanaka district and one of the city’s most celebrated independent galleries. In March, its charismatic founder Masami Shiraishi unveiled a new sister space: Scai Park.
The spacious new gallery, spanning 270 square meters, is far removed from its Yanaka origins and instead is located on the fifth floor of Terrada Art Complex, home to artist studios and other galleries on Tennozu Isle in Shinagawa Ward. Artists Anish Kapoor, Lee Ufan, Kohei Nawa and Naoki Ishikawa are among those who have already exhibited their work at Scai Park — with more guaranteed to follow.
Yayoi Kusama Museum, Tokyo
She is one of Japan’s most iconic artists, famed for her signature polka-dot pumpkins and “infinity mirrors” alike, so it’s probably about time that Yayoi Kusama opened her very own museum.
Designed by architectural firm Kume Sekkei, the new museum is in a residential corner of Shinjuku (close to the psychiatric hospital she has called home for four decades). It’s housed in a soothingly minimal white space, with softly curved walls and expanses of glass, providing the perfect complement to her rainbow-bright artworks (Tip: don’t miss the toilets — mini polka-dot-mirror nirvanas).
Enoura Observatory, Odawara
Following more than a decade of meticulous planning, Hiroshi Sugimoto, the artist famed for his monochrome sea horizons and atmospheric diorama photography, finally opened perhaps his ultimate creative legacy in October: the Enoura Observatory. A minimal medley of stone, metal and glass spaces span a hillside citrus grove overlooking the Pacific in a remote rural spot of Odawara (one of his earliest childhood memories is catching sight of the sea while travelling on a train in the area).
Highlights — and there are many — include the outdoor stone theater with a glass optic stage; the elegantly arced base of a long narrow gallery jutting toward the sea; and the 70-meter tunnel perfectly positioned to capture sunrise just once a year on the winter solstice.
21_21 Design Sight, Tokyo
Since first opening its doors a decade ago, 21_21 Design Sight has firmly established itself as a top design mecca in the capital, thanks to its innovatively curated design exhibitions and its timeless space as created by architect Tadao Ando.
To mark its 10th anniversary, the gallery — whose directors are the impressive trio Issey Miyake, Taku Satoh and Naoto Fukasawa — gave its fans the biggest possible treat: the opening of a new space. Since launching in March, the adjacent Gallery 3, which used to be home to a restaurant, has showcased a series of exhibitions, pop-up events and Open Conversation programs led by leading creators exploring the future of design.
MOA Museum of Art, Atami
Perhaps one of the most innovative museum renovations in recent years, the MOA Museum of Art in Atami — an establishment dating back to 1982 — unveiled the results of a contemporary makeover in February. The renovation was carried out by Hiroshi Sugimoto and his longtime architectural partner Tomoyuki Sakakida, who collectively run New Material Research Laboratory.
The end result is a fusion of minimal, clean lines and natural materials that perfectly showcase the museum’s heritage-rich collections, countless important cultural properties and national treasures among them, from ceramics and lacquerware to textiles. Its inaugural exhibition juxtaposed such classics with Sugimoto’s interpretation of the famed 18th-century gold panel painting “Red and White Plum Blossoms” by Ogata Korin.
Kochi Castle Museum of History, Kochi
The opening in February of a new museum devoted to preserving the historical legacy of Kochi Castle, one of only 12 castles in Japan that has remained intact since the 18th century, is a welcome addition to the city.
The new museum, located just by the castle’s main gate, showcases 67,000 surviving historical materials and artworks in a contemporary take on the castle’s traditional structure, with its latticed metalwork, tiered silhouette and stone wall base. Further modern touches include free Wi-Fi to access explanations in a number of languages relating to exhibitions.