Going to a museum in Japan is, more often than not, a rather accessible and undemanding yet refined cultural experience. It tends to be quite uniform; wherever you go, you will find a museum that looks like, well, a museum — conveniently signposted, quiet and comfortable.

So when my search for the Salon de Suigeikan took me out to the middle of nowhere in Kamakura, I thought that Google-sensei might be playing a trick on me. Far from the quaint old-style streets, scenic temples and giant Buddha that many of us associate with this historic town, I found instead an odd little house by the roadside with a giant whale sitting in the front yard.

“Well, we already had the whale statue outside, and my father would often drink a lot during exhibitions here. Someone who drinks a lot is sometimes referred to as a whale in Japanese, you know? So in the end it became sui-gei-kan (drunk whale manor),” says the artist and musician Kazuto Ishimaru, who is the second-generation owner of the museum.