With a tradition as long and as rich as Japan’s, it’s understandable that most guide books focus on revisiting the past. Indeed Tokyo is full of noteworthy temples and museums that take you back to days gone by. However it would be a mistake to overlook the capital’s equally fascinating contemporary culture, particularly it’s vibrant modern art scene. 

Not far from JR Shinagawa station is the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, which celebrated its 30th anniversary just last year. The museum is housed in a three-story building that was previously a personal residence, but was later converted into an art space and retains much of its homely feel. One can find some of the best art from Japan and around the world at the Hara as its collection includes the likes of Yasumasa Morimura and Tatsuo Miyajima, as well as  Korean-American artist Nam June Paik and Brazilian Adriana Varejao. 

This fall will also holds new promise for Tokyo locals too, with the Tobin Ohashi Gallery opening on September 30th. This contemporary gallery located at Nihonbashi spotlights prominent artists from Japan and around Asia as well, and can be accessed via Kodenmacho station on the Hibiya line or Bakurocho station on the JR Sobu line. Featured artists with upcoming exhibitions in the fall include Jun Ogata in November, with Chinese artist Zhu Wei to follow for the December show.  

The gallery is actually a rebranding of the Asian Collection Contemporary Art Gallery in Azabu Juban, so those who enjoyed exhibitions there can look forward to even more quality exhibitions as they make the shift over to Nihonbashi. With a bilingual English-Japanese environment, the gallery is perfect for visiting art lovers in search of a comfortable art experience.  

For film buffs, Tokyo serves up the more mainstream art form for which the nation has become famous, that being of course anime. Admirers of the genius animator Hayao Miyazi must include a visit to the Mitaka Forest Ghibli Museum on their itinerary. As you might expect with any Studio Ghibli production the museum itself is more than a little surreal. If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to live inside a cartoon, wandering this wonderful space is about as close as you’ll get. 

The exhibits are laid out in no particular order and visitors are encouraged to lose themselves among the twists and turns and hidden enclaves, discovering more and more about the work of these anime masters in every corner. Actual sketches and storyboard from famous Ghibli films are on display, as well as regular short film showings in the Saturn Theater. 

Revisit all your favorite Miyazaki films here, including well-known and beloved titles like Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, Spirited Away, and My Neighbor Totoro. There is also a gift shop on location as well, featuring a wide assortment of souvenirs and memorabilia from most of the studio’s feature films. Don’t forget to visit the rooftop where you’ll find a giant robot soldier from the film Laputa: Castle in the Sky watching over the area. The Ghibli Museum is located in Inokashira Park, accessible via Kichijoji station or Mitaka station. Be sure to book your tickets in advance because demand to view the works of Studio Ghibli is, as you might expect, always high. 

If you’d like to view some visuals from the studio’s newest film, The Borrower Arrietty, the Museum of Contemporary Tokyo Art will be featuring Yohei Taneda’s work from the movie until October 3rd. For those familiar with Taneda’s work, you’ll no doubt be pleased to hear that this exhibition includes a look back at his previous work as film production designer on Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 as well as The Wow-Choten Hotel. 

Film fans visiting Tokyo late this year will also have an opportunity to reacquaint themselves with Japanese director and film legend Akira Kurosawa, who was born 100 years ago back in 1910. To mark the occasion The National Film Center will spotlight his entire career in a program entitled Kurosawa Akira: Retrospective at his Centenary, beginning on November 9th and runs until December 26th. 

The mind behind such classics as Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, and Ran, Kurosawa ranks among the greatest artists that Japan has ever produced, and this show at the NFC is a perfect opportunity to review the work of the film master. You can get there via the Ginza line, stopping off at Kyobashi station and walking to the nearby Kyobashi Building from exit 1. While you’re in the Kyobashi area it’s worth popping over to the nearby Galerie Tokyo Humanité, who have upcoming shows featuring Kiniko Satake from September 27th to October 9th, and Manika Nagare from October 4th to the 23rd.

One of the most fascinating features of Tokyo is how one can experience both traditional Japanese culture as well as more modern trends all in the same locale. Whether you’re in Tokyo for a brief business trip or a more extended vacation, your time in the capital city would be greatly enriched by visiting a few of its many excellent art facilities in addition to the more frequently visited landmarks. Like any mega-city the hustle and bustle can at times be somewhat tiring, but spending a quiet afternoon soaking in an art exhibition is sure to leave you refreshed and recharged.  

For art lovers who would like a more extensive guide to Japan’s capital city, consider picking up a copy of Art Space Tokyo: An intimate guide to the Tokyo art world by Ashley Rawlings and Craig Mod. The beautifully designed book is a piece of art in its own right, and is one of the more unique Tokyo guidebooks you’re likely to find.

  • Hara Museum of Contemporary Art: http://www.haramuseum.or.jp
  • Tobin Ohashi Gallery: http://www.theasiancollection.com/
  • Ghibli Museum: http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/en/
  • Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo: http://www.mot-art-museum.jp
  • Kurosawa Akira, Retrospective at his Centenary: http://www.momat.go.jp/english/nfc/index.html
  • Galerie Tokyo Humanité http://g-tokyohumanite.jp/
  • Art Space Tokyo: http://artspacetokyo.com