I haven’t written about Tokyo, its contemporary art scene and galleries, in a while. But these past few days I helped my sister plan her honeymoon in Japan for next fall, and I got incredibly nostalgic. Tokyo is such a special city, and with Sakura season coming up, I have been thinking about this magical destination more and more.

When it comes to contemporary art and galleries, Tokyo is a real hub of culture. We have already talked at large of its numerous galleries and museums, focusing in particular on the Roppongi and Ginza districts. Today, I want to list my top five Japanese galleries in Tokyo. 

Scattered around the city, these galleries are originally from Japan and had a great role in promoting Japanese contemporary art both nationally and internationally. Nowadays, they work with international as well as local artists, and most of them have branches abroad, both in Asia, as well as Europe or the US, expanding their influence far beyond Japan.

Whether you are interested in Japanese art, emerging artists, or well-established masters, these galleries offer a diverse range of exhibitions and collections that are sure to captivate and inspire visitors.

So, without any further ado, here are five great Japanese contemporary art galleries in Tokyo.

Kohei Nawa. TORNSCAPE, 2021 | Exhibition view at SCAI THE BATHHOUSE | Photo: Nobutada Omote, courtesy of the gallery

SCAI The Bathhouse

Possibly one of my all-time favorite galleries, everything at SCAI The Bathhouse is magical. 
Located in Yanaka, a historical area of Tokyo, reminiscent of the old city, the gallery is hosted in a former public bath with a 200-year history. Quintessentially Tokyo, SCAI mixes tradition and modernity, both in its architecture as well as in its program. 

The gallery was established in 1993, for 30 years the gallery has represented the best contemporary Japanese artists, ranging from true masters, like Lee Ufan and Mariko Mori, to emerging figures, which SCAI launched internationally, such as Kohei Nawa and Nobuko Tsuchiya. 

At the same time, the gallery also promotes the work of international artists, putting them in direct contact with Japanese culture, and making them reflect on local traditions. As they state, “SCAI The Bathhouse seeks to function as a meeting place of various currents of contemporary art, both in Japan and abroad, and to play a leading and responsible role in the art scene.”

Together with their gallery in Yanaka, they recently opened “Komagome Soko”, an experimental project space for emerging talents, and “SCAI PARK” which extends preservation and depot space to an exhibition site.

SCAI The Bathhouse
〒110-0001 Tokyo, Taito City, Yanaka, 6 Chome−1−23 柏湯跡

Info and opening hours: www.scaithebathhouse.com

Hirofumi Toyama. 1, 2, 2022 | Installation view at Taka Ishii Gallery | Photo: Kenji Takahashi, courtesy of the gallery

Taka Ishii Gallery

Perhaps one of the most internationally famous Japanese galleries, Taka Ishii Gallery is another must-visit for art lovers in Tokyo. 

Taka Ishii Gallery was originally opened in 1994, and almost three decades later it has three different locations in Tokyo, as well as other branches in Kyoto and Hong Kong. The gallery originally made a name for itself particularly for photography, as it presented the works of contemporary masters like Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki, or Naoya Hatakeyama. 

Nowadays, the gallery presents eight solo and group exhibitions yearly, promoting mostly emerging Japanese artists. Their main goal is to act as an international platform for emerging Japanese artists and contemporary masters, while also introducing international contemporary artists within Japan. 

In addition to the primary exhibition space at complex665 in Roppongi, in Tokyo, the gallery also runs amanaTIGP, which focuses on historical exhibitions of pre and postwar Japanese photography and film work.

Taka Ishii Gallery
〒106-0032 Tokyo, Minato City, Roppongi, 6 Chome−5−24 complex665 3F

Info and opening hours: www.takaishiigallery.com

Yayoi Kusama. I Want Your Tears to Flow with the Words I Wrote, 2021 | Exhibition view at Ota Fine Arts | Photo Courtesy of the gallery

Ota Fine Arts

Here is yet another Japanese gallery you probably already know, long before visiting Tokyo. With locations in the Japanese capital, as well as Singapore and Shanghai, the gallery is also present at some of the most important International art fairs, and represents real masters, like the international sensation Yayoi Kusama. 

Established in 1994 in Tokyo, the gallery defines itself as a pioneer of Japanese contemporary art, promoting some of the most acclaimed Japanese artists. Nowadays, the gallery keeps promoting local artists, as well as artists from South-East Asia and the Middle East region. 

The gallery first relocated to Roppongi in 2003, and it moved to its current space in 2011. Over the past decades, the gallery has presented artists from all sorts of media, from painting to video art and crafts, focusing primarily on mid-career and established artists, but also promoting emerging ones. 

Ota Fine Arts
〒106-0032 Tokyo, Minato City, Roppongi, 6 Chome−6−9 ピラミデビル

Info and opening hours: www.otafinearts.com

Andro Wekua. Drift Angle, 2021 | Installation view at Take Ninagawa | Photo courtesy of the gallery

Take Ninagawa

If you are looking for pop and colorful art, then Take Ninagawa is the place for you. Established in 2008, the gallery is dedicated to promoting emerging and historically established Japanese artists in a cross-generational, international framework. Like other galleries, Take Ninagawa promotes Japanese artists, especially in the international context and with a focus on contemporary themes and issues, and also works with international artists, that are required to respond to the unique context for contemporary art and culture in Japan.

The gallery usually produces exhibitions that are at once cheerful and pop, while also rooted in important historical and subcultural movements or popular phenomena like Manga. 

Located between the Mori Art Museum and the Tokyo tower, this is the perfect stop while wandering around the city for some sightseeing.

Take Ninagawa
1F, 2 Chome-12-4 Higashiazabu, Minato City, Tokyo 106-0044

Info and opening hours: www.takeninagawa.com

Calm & Punk Gallery

Lastly, a slightly different space, but still dedicated to the promotion of local and international artists. Among the Japanese galleries of Tokyo, CALM & PUNK GALLERY is a unique creative space for exhibitions, performances, workshops, and talks. Established in 2006 by GAS AS I/F’s, and located in Nishiazabu, the gallery exhibits a broad roster of artists, both native and international, working within a diverse range of mediums. The artists represented generally have a lower price point compared to the other galleries mentioned, but the quality of their offer is just as high and innovative. 

Merging high and low culture, the gallery’s curatorial practice aims to represent versatile modes of expression. In addition to classical mediums like painting, drawing, and sculpture, CALM & PUNK GALLERY has a strong affinity towards new media that embody innovation in the arts including graphic design, product design, and various other digital media. The gallery also publishes GASBOOK under its operating company GAS AS I/F. Garnering popular and critical acclaim starting in the 90s and 00s, the art books are known for their sharp and novel features on artists and leaders of youth culture.

The gallery is once more located in the Roppongi area, making it an easy stop in a gallery-hopping tour of Roppongi.

Calm & Punk Gallery
Asai Bldg., 1F, 1 Chome-15-15 Nishiazabu, Minato City, Tokyo 106-0031

Info and opening hours: calmandpunk.com

Cover image by Christian MacMillan on Unsplash