Tokyo is one of the most exciting cities I have visited so far. It is rich and diverse and its cultural offer is just as amazing. I already talked about Roppongi and its thrilling art scene, but contemporary art in Tokyo can be found everywhere. Tokyo is one of the richest capital cities in the world, so galleries, museums, and private collections are spread all over the city.
Here you can find Japanese artists as well as international ones. Galleries and museums represent both, giving visitors a well-rounded understanding of contemporary art in Japan and Asia, as well as its links to the international scene.
Since Tokyo is so rich in contemporary art destinations, here are four of the best ones to start your journey.
SCAI The Bathhouse
Located in picturesque Yanaka, an area where old buildings and small houses are still nicely preserved, SCAI The Bathhouse is a modern and contemporary art gallery. It is housed in a former public bath that is over 200 years old. Once you step inside, though, the venerable building turns into a modern white cube. The gallery works with both Japanese and international artists, ranging from well-known masters such as Lee Ufan and Anish Kapoor to younger, emerging and mid-career artists, like Haruka Kojin, Kohei Nawa, and He Xiangyu.
Since its opening in 1993, the gallery has hosted interesting temporary exhibitions, while also promoting artists’ interventions in public spaces. In 2017 they also opened a second space, SCAI Park. Located inside the TERRADA Art Complex on Tennozu Isle, it displays a series of curated programs, showcasing new works by SCAI’s represented artists as well as historical masterpieces from the gallery’s collection.
SCAI The Bathhouse
Japan, 〒110-0001 Tokyo, Taito City, Yanaka, 6 Chome−1−23 柏湯跡
Open Tuesday to Saturday, 12 – 6 pm
Located in Ginza, the Shiseido Gallery is one of the top destinations in Tokyo for every contemporary art lover. It originally opened its doors in 1919 and it is now said to be the oldest art gallery still operating in Japan. Over the years the gallery hosted more than 3000 exhibitions and it managed to survive and stay open through wars and earthquakes. Today it is housed on the underground level of the Tokyo Ginza Shiseido Building, a shiny red building right on Chuo-dori avenue – one of Ginza’s main shopping streets.
Nowadays it primarily focuses on international contemporary art, but over the years it has served as a launching platform for many Japanese artists as well.
Once you step inside, you can leave behind you the buzzing of Ginza and immerse yourself in this cave of wonders. The gallery has high ceilings and big rooms that host interesting temporary exhibitions. You can also pair the visit with some great shopping or a gallery tour of Ginza.
Japan, 〒104-0061 Tokyo, Chuo City, Ginza, 8 Chome−8−3 資生堂銀座ビル B1F
Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 am – 7 pm, Sunday 11 am – 6 pm
Watari-um – The Watari Museum of Contemporary Art
Talking about contemporary art destinations in Tokyo, let’s move from Ginza to Shibuya, where you can visit the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art. Opened in 1990, it was designed by the architect Mario Botta. The museum is one of the major institutions in Japan and in Asia in the field of contemporary visual arts. It is steps away from the Omotesando area and close to Harajuku and the Shibuya crossing, which make it the perfect art stop during your Tokyo shopping spree.
Over the years the museums hosted large exhibitions, as well as lectures and workshops, but also smaller exhibitions by younger artists, showing a balanced interest in both established and emerging artists. The building is in itself very interesting and the exhibitions are well designed, with an eye for bright and pop colors.
The museum is not too big, and can easily be visited in a couple of hours, or you can pair the visit with a few other galleries, museums, and temples located around this area.
Watarium Art Museum
3 Chome-7-6 Jingumae, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-0001, Japan
Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 am – 7 pm
Tickets 800 – 1000 ¥
The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo
Lastly, a big museum, because we love to get lost while admiring hundreds of different, amazing works. The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo is located in Kiba Park.
It was originally opened in 1995, but its collection dates back to 1926 when the Tokyo Prefectural Art Museum first opened in Ueno Park. It built up a collection of approximately 3,000 artworks, that later passed on to the MOT museum. The collection comprises works by postwar artists, as well as works by young artists that provide a well-defined view of current trends in art, and it currently contains as many as 5,500 works. The collection is on display year-round, but the museum also hosts temporary exhibits. Working with international and Japanese artists, the museum offers insight on some of the most interesting international artists, working with various different themes and mediums.
The museum is not too close to the most popular tourist spots in Tokyo, but it is definitely worth a visit. It offers well-designed exhibitions, a library, kids’ activities, and a vast range of events, gallery talks, guided visits, workshops, lectures, and so on.
Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo
4 Chome-1-1 Miyoshi, Koto City, Tokyo 135-0022, Japan
Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 am – 6 pm
Tickets prices vary based on the exhibition