As the world’s first publicly run museum solely dedicated to the art of Bonsai (and just an hour outside of Tokyo), Omiya is (understandably) a must-see. Bonsai is an elegant, living art that requires oceans of patience and restraint. For a suitable comparison, imagine if Michelangelo spent his life slowly growing his masterpiece David from a pebble. Even those uninitiated with the artform can expect to be wowed here: In addition to spelling out the basics (root structure, intended styles and tree choice), the museum showcases several masterpieces estimated to be over a century old. A stroll through this gallery is the perfect meditative afternoon.
For another meditative afternoon, but with a different medium, it’d be wise to check out the Hoki Museum. Located in Chiba (a simple daytrip from Tokyo), this gallery houses 480 paintings along its mesmerizing halls — a tally that is said to be the most extensive library of realist art anywhere in the world. The space itself can also lay claim to the distinction of art, thanks to the efforts of renowned architectural firm Nikken Sekkei. Strolling these long, long corridors, lined with paintings that could pass for windows to moments frozen in time, feels like a dreamscape — a feat all museums aspire to, though rarely achieve.
Just 300 kilometers northwest of Tokyo, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, is a revelation. In an elegant, ethereal space tucked between mountains and sea, the museum invites artists to produce site-specific installations that grow to be associated with the greater area. The results speak for themselves: Even if you’re not attuned to the modern art world, chances are you’ve seen Leandro Erlich’s Swimming Pool or Olaflur Eliasson’s Color Activity on social media. Modern art demands to be experienced rather than observed, making this museum something of a pilgrimage you’re fated to make when you visit Japan.
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