Spring is a season of art. As winter recedes, the air fills with creative energy. Tokyo’s art fairs at this time of the year can be fun with kids, but the crowds and sheer volume of exhibitors can be overwhelming. The city does, however, offer plenty of other art opportunities if you know where to look, and most of them welcome young ones.
Several of the country’s most important museums are in Ueno. However, today I’ll focus on just a few of the more dynamic spots that my own kids enjoy visiting.
Let’s categorize the first three kid-friendly art spaces by their unconventional buildings. These spaces prove that not all art benefits from the plain white cube. Take Scai the Bathhouse in the northern Tokyo neighborhood of Yanaka, for example. Though it has white walls, it is in fact a reformed public bathhouse. Here you’ll find exhibitions of contemporary art heavy-hitters such as Julian Opie and Anish Kapoor. I recommend getting off at Nippori Station and walking through the charming Yanaka neighborhood to reach it.
At 3331 Arts Chiyoda, galleries and exhibition spaces occupy what was once a junior high school. Tucked into a quiet neighborhood near Akihabara, this place serves as both gallery and community center, with various classes and workshops happening year round. There’s also a cafe, a front yard and a toy space for younger kids.
One of the most interesting art spaces in the city for kids, however, is the Design Festa Gallery in Harajuku. The quality of the art may vary, as it’s often the work of students, but that said, the multi-chambered building is a destination in itself, with many nooks and crannies to explore.
My next category of kid-friendly art spaces are those run by big-name brands. Our first stop is Ginza. Here you’ll find the Shiseido Gallery, run by one of Japan’s biggest cosmetics companies. Located below the Shiseido Parlour shop (the company also makes biscuits and cakes) on Ginza’s main strip, this basement space frequently exhibits photography, painting and video installations. A few blocks north is Maison Hermes Le Forum. Run by the French luxury brand, this airy space is located on the eighth floor of the Hermes flagship store and its glass-cube walls let in lots of natural light. A few kilometers to the west in Omotesando is Espace Louis Vuitton. Like Le Forum, this is a large glassed-in cube above the brand’s flagship store, and the windows give you an excellent view of the neighborhood. The art here often takes advantage of the ample daylight, with bright colors and reflective surfaces.
For my final category of family-friendly galleries, let’s talk about green space. Even the most art-inclined kids need a place to run from time to time. These last three recommendations are chosen for their proximity to a park or a playground.
I’ll start in Roppongi, near the city center. With the completion of Roppongi’s Art Triangle (The National Art Center, Tokyo, The Suntory Museum of Art and the Mori Art Museum), families could easily spend an entire weekend in the area. Two particular places that stand out for our kids here are the Mori Art Museum and 21_21 Design Sight. The Mori Art Museum frequently has exhibits that fascinate both young people and parents. The view from its 53rd floor location doesn’t hurt, either. On the east side of the Mori building is Mohri Garden, a small green oasis amid the concrete.
A short walk from here is 21_21 Design Sight, an excellent place for kids to discover how design permeates nearly every aspect of society. Located behind the Tokyo Midtown Building, 21_21 Design Sight sits next to Hinokicho Park. After a day of gallery hopping with kids, this can be a great spot to let them burn off some energy. Look inside the Tokyo Midtown building for takeaway lunch ideas.
On the east side of town, my family’s favorite art space is the Museum of Contemporary Art. However, at the the time of writing its galleries are closed for renovations. Until the museum reopens, a more subversive alternative nearby is the SNAC/Mujin-to Production, the home of clever artists such as Lyota Yagi and provocateurs like Chim↑Pom.
Moving west, we reach the country’s most kid-friendly art space in the city. I’m talking, of course, about the Ghibli Museum. Sure, the Ghibli Museum is an odd fit for this list as it is dedicated to the animation of living legend Hayao Miyazaki. That said, his films form a body of work that continues to inform Japanese design and contemporary art even today. The lush green walking paths of neighboring Inokashira Park are a great way for families to approach or return from such a magical place. Just remember the Ghibli Museum is immensely popular and has to be booked in advance via the museum website or at a Lawson convenience store ticket machine — the earlier the better.
Tokyo’s art spaces: What’s coming up
3331 Arts Chiyoda: ‘Lee Wen: Bird,’ April 1-23
Lee Wen from Singapore is internationally recognized for his socially aware multidisciplinary artworks. “Birds” is a solo show of his latest works.
Shiseido Gallery: ‘Tsubaki-kai 2017: Shoshin,’ April 4-May 28
Shiseido’s next show brings together the work of a number of well-known contemporary Japanese artists — Genpei Akasegawa, Naoya Hatakeyama, Rei Naito, Zon Ito, Ryoko Aoki and Yasutake Shimaji — for a collection of works of photography, embroidery, painting and more.
Maison Hermes Le Forum: ‘The Water Trilogy 2: Autodefension Microtonal Obrera Campesina Estudiantil Metabolista Descalza by Abraham Cruzvillegas,’ April 21-July 2
Conceptual artist Abraham Cruzvillegas works with found objects and unusual materials to create large sculptural works.
Mori Art Museum: ‘N.S. Harsha: Charming Journey,’ ~June 11
N.S. Harsha’s large-scale installations and paintings explore social and everyday issues of his hometown of Mysore, India.
21_21 Design Sight: ‘Athlete,’ ~June 4
“Athlete” is a multimedia exploration of the complexities of the athlete’s body and design concepts behind sports equipment.
Ghibli Museum: ‘All Aboard! The Cat Bus to the Ghibli Forest,’ (closing date to be confirmed)
To celebrate its 15th anniversary, the Ghibli Museum’s special exhibition features an array of works from its previous shows. This includes its giant furry Cat Bus, a big hit with the toddlers.
www.ghibli-museum.jp (Mio Yamada)