If the new Prime Minister’s Official Residence was opened to the public, unknowing visitors would think they had stumbled into an art museum.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi moved into the residence in April 2002 and has “converted” it over the past several months into a museum filled with pictures and sculptures that match his tastes.

Unfortunately, due to the tight security, the Koizumi collection is basically off-limits to the public and, apart from his staff, can only be viewed by the handful of politicians, bureaucrats and business leaders who are allowed to enter.

“The official residence is bare,” Koizumi said in his electronic news letter. “As it has at least a space larger than an exhibition hall, I have suggested putting things on display that visitors can enjoy viewing.”

He has been adding even more works since November, when he visited the Japan Fine Arts Exhibition (Nitten) at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno Park.

In January, he personally surveyed the rooms in his residence to find suitable places for pictures and sculptures and instructed his staff to display as many works as possible.

Because one of the conditions for the plan was that all the works displayed had to be procured for free, the officials in turn asked the Cultural Affairs Agency, which has strong relations with art organizations, to borrow them. The residence has acquired about 100 pieces so far.

In addition to award-winning sculptures from the Japan Academy of Arts, many ukiyo-e woodblock prints and scrolls are exhibited.

But despite its bright, glass-covered exterior, the new residence has been criticized for being exclusive, due to tight security.

Artworks are also displayed in the residence lobby and reception areas, but these spaces are usually devoid of people. Those who most have the opportunity to enjoy the art are the members of the residence’s security detail.

But the Cultural Affairs Agency disagrees with criticism that the art in the residence is being kept from public view.

“All the works on exhibit have already been made public,” one agency official said. “The official residence is not a suitable place to view art, and we believe people should see them up close and as much as they like when they are exhibited at museums.”

Apparently unconcerned about any criticism, Koizumi has asked that the artworks be rotated on a regular basis.

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