Last fall, British artist Jake Chapman found a spectacular way to irritate arts-minded parents like me — all the while “coincidentally” generating controversy and interest in his latest show where there was previously none. Chapman is a shock merchant, so I should have realized that his words might have been crafted to go viral, as they did last August.
What did he say? He said that taking children to art galleries is a “waste of time,” and that parents would be “arrogant” to think that their children could understand abstract artists. As a frequenter of galleries and a father of two, this felt like a personal affront. Incensed, I spluttered angry refutations into cyberspace before realizing my online outrage could only aid his upcoming exhibition (well played, Chapman). So instead of futile grievances, I dropped the subject and took my daughter to an exhibition. And then another one.
If you glean anything from this column, I hope it’s that Tokyo is fantastic fun for children. There are great parks, museums and family entertainment options, but one aspect of the city that I feel is often overlooked by Tokyo parents is the vibrant contemporary art scene. Galleries continue to blossom in pockets of the metropolis: from glitzy luxury brand-backed parlors in Ginza and Omotesando, to small, innovative spaces in humble neighborhoods such as Bakurocho, Yanaka and Kiyosumi Shirakawa.
These can be incredible places for young and curious minds to explore, and yet we rarely see other children when we go gallery hopping. Some galleries of the world may discourage visits from wee ones or, at best, give only a stilted and wary welcome. This has not been our experience in Japan, however. Of course, I take the time to make sure my brood knows how to act in such places — hands by your side, stay at safe distances, use quiet voices. Perhaps because of this, we are almost invariably met with a smile.
I encourage your family to explore Tokyo’s hundreds of galleries, and perhaps I will list a few of our family favorites in an upcoming column, but if you’re new to Tokyo’s art scene and looking for a place to start, then head over to 3331 Arts Chiyoda.
More than just a gallery, 3331 Arts Chiyoda is designed to be a community hub for creativity. Occupying a former junior high school, the facility is home to many small galleries and exhibitions spaces, as well as a children’s play area and several community-minded businesses.
Community is a key word here: more than any other Tokyo art venue, 3331 Arts Chiyoda is designed with everyone in mind. The variety of spaces and a frequently updated exhibition schedule mean that you can return regularly and always see something new. From March 21, it’s hosting an art fair aimed at offering a range of contemporary works for sale to both veteran collectors and beginners, but 3331 Arts Chiyoda can, and should, be visited at any point of the year. The quality of work may not always align with your tastes, but you’ll always leave with something to talk about.
Tucked inside a nondescript city block, this spot can be tricky to find the first time, but once you see the grassy front lawn and welcoming wooden deck out front, you’ll know you’ve arrived. The closest station is Suehirocho on the Ginza line, but stairs are the only option there, so those pushing a baby stroller may wish to arrive via stations in neighboring Ueno or Akihabara.
Walking in the front entrance, you’re greeted by a restaurant-cafe on your right and the main exhibition hall straight ahead, but if you’re visiting with young kids, veer left over to a space called Kaeru Station, where used toys have been recycled and re-purposed into dinosaurs and fractal-patterned sculptures. Once you’ve visited here and the building’s main exhibition, head upstairs, where a number of small and enthusiastic galleries occupy former classrooms.
One of these is A/A Gallery, which promotes artists with disabilities. Another is Akibatamabi21, a space used to display the work of Tama Art University graduates. Spaces like this are where many young and ambitious artists first show their idea, and the works often involve bright colors and shiny surfaces.
In addition to all the art on display, 3331 Arts Chiyoda often offers kid-friendly workshops and other happenings. Some events require pre- registration, but often you can just show up and discover something great in progress. Once, we arrived to join a painting event to help decorate tsunami-affected schools, and then stumbled onto a free stained-glass workshop elsewhere in the building. I can’t guarantee that something like that will happen to you the first time you visit, but an afternoon in the halls of 3331 Arts Chiyoda is never a waste of time.
3331 Arts Chiyoda is open daily 10 a.m.-9 p.m., the 1F gallery is open 12 p.m.-7 p.m. and closed on Tue., though times may vary, depending on the exhibition. For more details, visit www.3331.jp/en.