While much has changed since Japan last hosted the Annual Meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group in 1964 — a year that symbolized the nation’s achievement of reconstruction after World War II through the hosting of the meeting and the Summer Olympics — art has always reflected, reviewed and foreseen the times.

With the aim of providing visitors with a glimpse of the art scenes in today’s Japan, the galleries in the Ginza district of Tokyo are offering free art tours through Oct. 14 on the occasion of the meetings being held in the capital.

Ginza, which was designated as a model of modernization by the Meiji government in 1872, has developed into one of the most sophisticated and luxurious shopping districts in the world. The name of the district comes from the silver mint that was there during the Edo Period (1603-1867). Today, besides world-famous brands and department stores, Ginza is also known as a center of Japanese art and culture.

“Ginza is home to more than 300 galleries,” said Seiko Yamada, the head of Art Japan Co., which runs the Gallery Seizan in Ginza. “While being engaged in tight competition, we have presented high-quality art works through either discovering talented young artists or rediscovering the works from the past.”

According to Yamada, it is a good deal to buy artworks in Japan as “it often happens that the works gain a reputation abroad first and then are re-imported to Japan.”

Indeed, works by Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara or Yayoi Kusama serve as such examples.

“So we can provide collectors with opportunities to dig out masterpieces by unknown talents, who have the potential to become a sleeper hit, at relatively affordable prices,” Yamada said.

Organized by Ginza Galleries, a voluntary organization consisting of 40 galleries in Ginza, the free tours come in five different courses. Each course takes in three galleries according to a genre of art, ranging from traditional Japanese ceramics, vintage art nouveau glassware, Western-style and Japanese-style paintings to contemporary sculpture and photography.

Like the Ginza district’s Westernized modernity, Japanese people have rapidly adopted a taste for Western-style art since the Meiji Restoration began in 1868.

“The first step for Japanese artists of the era was admiration for and imitation of Europe,” said Akihiro Shimizu, manager of Shihoudou Gallery. “We have shed light on Japanese artists, including forgotten painters, who studied Western art. How they struggled and established their own artistic identities could be traced through their works, which are still striking today.”

On the other hand, Japanese art has its own traditional techniques, such as ukiyo-e and nihonga, that remain in style.

“We aim to introduce contemporary artists who are exploring the new possibilities of nihonga paintings,” said Tsukasa Nakata of Sagamiya, which has presented contemporary nihonga including works by Yuji Murakami, brother of Takashi.

Visitors can choose the type of galleries according to their interests. Professional bilingual staff will explain the artists, the artworks and the latest trends in the Japanese art industry. For those who would like to take in an individual gallery, flexible and customized tours are also available during the term.

“Or please just drop in,” Yamada said.

As several of the main venues for the annual meetings, such as the Imperial Hotel and the Tokyo International Forum, are a short stroll from Ginza, the world of Japanese art can easily be explored. Besides, a work of art that is only available in Japan would make a unique souvenir.

Gallery tours take place daily at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. For more information and applications, call the Ginza Galleries representative bureau (in Ginza Yanagi Gallery) at (03) 3573-7075, or visit www.ginza-galleries.com/tour.html .

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