TRAVEL GUIDE Japan Museums to lose yourself it

Photo of Suzanne Morphet

SUZANNE MORPHET explores Tokyo's arts scene.

As the world’s biggest city, Tokyo has lots to offer visitors, especially when it comes to museums and art galleries. From the Amuse Museum of textiles to the Zoshigaya Missionary Museum, there are dozens of choices.

These three will satisfy your cultural cravings for at least a few days, while introducing you to different parts of the sprawling metropolis

The Mori Building Digital Art Museum: teamLab Borderless

If you’ve ever been curious about what it would be like to try psychedelic drugs, this is a great way to have a legal mind-altering experience.

Enter the labyrinthine 10,000sqm of darkened physical space and wander at whim, letting the light, colour and music of about 50 exhibits wash over you.

Other than the floor and walls, there’s little that’s static here. Images shift endlessly in shape and colour, sometimes flowing from one room to another. Some exhibits respond to your touch, such as the one called Expanding Three-Dimensional Existence in Transforming Space, where you walk among spheres of floating light that change in colour and intensity.

Behind the scenes, 520 computers and 470 projectors create this fantastic world that’s at once both familiar and exotic. Many of the exhibits are based on the natural world — birds flitting through the air or flowers bursting into bloom, while a few challenge visitors physically, inviting you to run, jump and slide. Sometimes the floor is hilly as in Athletics Forest, designed to “promote growth of the hippocampus part of the brain and spatial awareness”.

My favourite exhibit was the one where you colour a drawing of an animal, insert it into a machine, which then spits it out as a moving creature. Feel free to follow your two-dimensional animal as it roams the hills and valleys of its landscape, but good luck keeping up.

The people behind teamLab have big aspirations, believing that “digital art can create new relationships between people”. But I was happy to simply forget about the rest of the world and have fun for a couple hours.

The Sumida Hokusai Museum

Imagine moving house more than 90 times in your life.

Even if you live to be 90, like Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, it would be disruptive to say the least.

Apparently Hokusai didn’t like to clean, so simply moved house when things got too dirty.

But despite the disruptions, he created multiple masterpieces, including his most famous Under the Wave off Kanagawa from his series Thirty-six Views of Mt Fuji.

This museum celebrates the life and work of Hokusai, who lived almost his entire life in the Sumida district of Tokyo but influenced artists as far away as Europe.

Born in 1760, Hokusai became prolific in Ukiyo-e — a style of woodblock print and painting that focused on worldly pleasures and romantic landscapes.

As well as gaining fame in Japan with his dynamic compositions and bright colours, he’s credited with triggering the birth of Impressionism.

Claude Monet owned a couple dozen Hokusai prints and Henri Riviere created and named the Thirty-Six Views of the Eiffel Tower after Hokusai’s series.

It’s estimated Hokusai produced 30,000 works in his lifetime, of which about 2000 are housed in the Sumida Hokusai Museum.

The four-storey museum, which opened in 2016, was designed by acclaimed architect Kazuyo Sejima and is striking in its own right with large cut-outs and angular lines.

Inside, the permanent exhibit explains Hokusai and his birthplace and has replicas of his works from different periods of his life, as represented by his various pseudonyms (he changed names almost as often as he moved house).

Mori Art Museum

Not to be confused with the Mori Building Digital Art Museum, this museum features three-dimensional art and installations, but on the cutting edge.

As well as being a centre of contemporary Japanese and Asian art, the museum prides itself on having an international perspective.

Its international advisory committee, which includes the director of the Art Gallery of South Australia in Adelaide, reflects this.

Exhibit The Soul Trembles (to October 27) by Osaka-born and Berlin-based artist Shiota Chiharu explores universal concepts such as identity, boundaries and existence. Large, immersive installations reflect intangible memories, dreams, and anxieties based on her personal experiences, including with cancer.

The Mori Art Museum’s location atop Roppongi Hills Mori Tower gives visitors easy access to Tokyo City View with its indoor and outdoor observation decks. Roppongi Hills is Tokyo’s largest urban redevelopment project, a “city within the city”.

Its ultra-high-rise structures and underground spaces were designed to free up large amounts of green space.

Apart from the Mori Art Museum, there are numerous public art installations to enjoy.

Fact File

The Mori Building Digital Art Museum: teamLab Borderless

Location: Palette Town, Odaiba

borderless.teamlab.art/

Sumida Hokusai Museum

Location: Sumida ward

hokusai-museum.jp

Mori Art Museum

Location: Roppongi Hills

mori.art.museum/en/

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