Japan has many days with clear weather, outside of the the rainy season, and with mild temperatures in the spring and fall many Japanese people like to venture outside in their spare time. If you like art as well, you’re in luck if you are in Japan; did you know that Japan has many amazing outdoor spaces where you can enjoy all kinds of (modern) art? Let us introduce to you our 7 favorite outdoor art museums and parks in Japan!
1. Naoshima Art Island
Not just one building, but one whole island is dedicated to modern art on Naoshima. This small island is also known as ‘Art Island’, and the island with a subtropical atmosphere is a must-visit destination for everyone who enjoys modern art installations. It hasn’t always been an island dedicated to art, as for decades, it was the location of a metal processing plant. After automation made the plant obsolete, the population of the island shrunk fast and it seemed destined to become a wasteland. But then, Benesse Holdings which is famous for holding a large collection of art, bought large parts of the island and turned it into the art island it is.
So nowadays, the island is a great destination for a little getaway for people of all ages. You can easily travel to Naoshima Island by ferry from both Takamatsu on Shikoku and Uno Port in Okayama. Which spots should you not miss on Naoshima? Its most famous piece of art is the polka dot pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama, which is exhibited in the exquisite Chichu Art Museum. The Art House Project is also very interesting, a former village which has been converted to house art installations in its buildings and outside. The most original installation is probably the ‘I Love Yu’, which is a bath house that was converted into art. If you are staying in Benesse House, you are actually sleeping in a museum, so a night in one of their hotel rooms is very much recommended.
All installations and museums are open between 10am and 4.30pm. Installations and museums are closed on Mondays, or on Tuesdays if Monday is a National Holiday. Different fees are charged for the museums.
2. Moomin Park
A park dedicated to a Finnish novel and cartoon franchise is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Japan, but it is actually not that strange that the Moomin Park found its home in Saitama, Japan. The Moomin anime series is a collaboration between Finland, the Netherlands, and Japan and became especially popular in Japan. It is about a cute family of Moomins, which are lovable hippos, who go on magical adventures with their friends around their Moominvalley home. In Japan, cute characters who encourage harmony and peace tend to be very popular, and the Moomin series has got all that.
So it was no wonder that when the Moominvalley Park in countryside town Hanno opened a few years ago, many people flocked to the park as soon as they could. Built in a Northern-European style in harmony with the natural surroundings, visitors are treated to gorgeous scenery with attractions scattered here and there. Before you enter the park there is an area called Metsa Village with shops and restaurants in Nordic style. Once you enter the park, there are an open-air theater, a playground, themed restaurants, tours of the Moomin house, a zipline, and more. There is a lot to discover and experience here, so you should plan a whole day for a visit to Moominvalley Park!
10am to 5pm (6pm on weekends and National Holidays)
Admission fee ¥1,700 + additional fees for various paid attractions
3. Hakone Open Air Museum
Only a 1.5-hour train ride away from Tokyo, Hakone is a major destination for those seeking a bit of time away from the city. The fascinating Owakudani and wonderful hot spring resorts are Hakone’s main attractions, but art fiends mainly come here for the Hakone Open Air Museum. This is easily one of the best art museums in Japan, and it does a great job of combining art with its natural surroundings.
Situated in a hilly green area, the way the large abstract sculptures are placed on the museum’s grounds is an artwork in itself, in a way that positioning works like an additional layer of canvas. There are indoor exhibitions as well, and the works of famous artists such as Picasso, Henry Moore, and Medardo Rosso are exhibited here. The Symphonic Sculpture is one of the most impressive works of the museum, you can even enter the installation in which you will be surrounded by colorful stained glass. Children will also have a good time here, as there are dedicated kid-friendly spaces where they can play amongst and inside the art installations. And are you tired of walking at the end of your visit? No problem, as there is a warm foot bath waiting for you.
Hakone Open Air Museum
9am to 5pm
Admission fee ¥1,600
4. Sapporo Art Park Sculpture Garden
Northern city Sapporo is mainly known for the Sapporo Snow Festival and its namesake beer brewery, but did you know that art lovers will also want to put this city on their itinerary? The city is surrounded by nature, and just outside the green southern suburbs they created the interactive Sapporo Art Park. There are dozens of sculptures placed around the park that you can see for free, and they also hold workshops where you can try your hand on crafts like pottery, woodworking, and painting. The Sapporo Art Park Sculpture Garden is part of the park, and a great place to visit in all seasons.
Beautiful bronze sculptures are dotted around the grounds, and you are allowed to touch them. You are also encouraged to picnic in the park when the weather is nice. In the spring, you can enjoy the cherry blossoms and magnolias, in the summer the park is tinted in all kinds of green, and once fall rolls around the park will erupt in reds, oranges, and yellows. In the winter there is no regular admission for the park, but fun snowshoe walks are organized in order to enjoy the park in a whole new way.
Sapporo Art Park
Open from April 29th until November 3rd
9.45am – 5pm
Admission fee ¥700
5. Tokorozawa Sakura Town
A recent addition to the hip and happening art scene of Tokyo and surroundings is Tokorozawa Sakura Town also in Saitama. The multi-purpose site opened in the fall of 2020, and became a good reason to take the 40-minute train ride to this Tokyo suburb. Manga-producer Kadokawa collaborated with Tokorozawa to create this shopping mall, museum, event space, and hotel complex that focuses on modern subcultures and pop culture. So if you are looking for typical modern Japanese culture goods, Tokorozawa Sakura Town is the place to go!
Another reason to check out this complex are the amazing structures you can find here. Famous architect Kengo Kuma, who likes to use wood elements and a minimalist design, had a large hand in designing the buildings that make the area stand out. Especially the impressive library in the Kadokawa Culture Museum is a real masterpiece, looking like something out of a Harry Potter book. On a periodic interval, an animation projection show is also projected onto the bookshelves, creating a cool sight. The futuristic museum is another modern masterpiece designed Kengo Kuma. There is even an ultra-modern new Shinto shrine on the site, the Musashino Reiwa Shrine, named after the new era in which it was unveiled.
The complex itself is open 24 hours. The Kadokawa Culture Museum is open from 10am to 6pm (until 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays), and it is closed on Tuesdays and between February 1-5.
Admission fee ¥1,600 + additional fees for various exhibitions.
6. Kirishima Open-Air Museum
On the southern island of Kyushu, set on the slopes of a volcanic mountain range, is the Kirishima Open Air Museum. Just the interesting setting already makes this museum worth a visit, but you will also be impressed by the 23 modern sculptures by different artists that were made here. Some of the artists are very famous such as Yayoi Kusama and Jonathan Borofsky.
One by one you will go past the artworks, discovering each one in its own way. Some works are meant to be admired from a distance, while other works are supposed to be touched or even climbed on in order to understand them. There is an Art Hall as well, an indoor space in which the exhibition rotates. They have a museum shop and a cafe as well.
Kirishima Open-Air Museum
9am to 5pm (until 7pm on summer weekends and National Holidays), closed on Mondays
Admission fee ¥310
7. Utsukushigahara Open-Air Museum
If you are planning to visit Matsumoto, famous for having one of the 12 original castles of Japan, and like modern sculpture art, we recommend you extend your trip by one day and stop by the Utsukushigahara Open-Air Museum. Situated in the mountains east of the castle town, this gigantic sculpture garden has amazing views of the surrounding highlands. If you are lucky, you can even see Mt. Fuji from here!
The museum was founded in the early 1980s, when the sky was the limit in Japan because of the booming economy. This is also one of the feelings that this museum will likely evoke. We recommend you to visit during the summer months, as accessibility by public transportation is better, and the environment will be very colorful with the wildflowers blooming.
Utsukushigahara Open-Air Museum
Open between late April and mid November
9am to 5pm
Admission fee ¥1,000
Traveling in Japan
If you want to get the most out of your trip in Japan you can do one or more private tours, and your guide will be happy to create a program where you make optimal use of the day and visit the places you would like to go. You can, for example, opt for a half day tour in Tokyo, a hike near Mount Fuji or a one day trip to Hakone.
As you can see, there are some great places in Japan to enjoy nature and art at the same time. If you travel to Japan, make sure to reserve one itinerary day to visit one of these spots to enjoy this side of Japan as well! And if you need ideas for other great activities for your Japan trip, check out our specially curated tours and other activities (https://www.japanwondertravel.com/)
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Stefanie Akkerman moved from the Netherlands to Japan in 2013 with her Japanese husband and son. She jumped into the niche of Dutch tour guiding in Tokyo and Kamakura in 2015 and occasionally writes articles about all the great sights and activities Japan has to offer. She loves (Japanese) food, and to work that all off she goes diving, snorkeling, cycling, or hiking.
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