Art and Architecture
Japan is home to countless world-class designers and artists, whose iconic styles draw travellers from all over the globe. Discover some of the coolest art and architecture sights Japan has to offer visitors.
You may think Hokkaido is all wide open fields, powder covered ski slopes and cranes (especially if you’ve seen Joanna Lumley’s Japan), but the food scene on this island is also something to shout about. In Niseko, you’ll find a bistro-style restaurant and bar called ‘The Barn’. A wall entirely made of glass allows diners to look out unhindered on the view outside.
Address: 170-323 Yamada, Kutchan-cho, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido, 044-0081
A stylish ryokan spread over 15 villages, this stylish retreat is a sought after place both to eat and sleep, with meticulous kaiseki meals on offer. Artworks of the creator – Shouya Grigg, are feature all across the ryokan buildings – which feature a library, indoor and outdoor hotsprings, a private gallery and more.
Address: 76-4 Hanazono, Kutchan-cho, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido, 044-0084.
Akita International University Library
Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, this university library is referred to as a ‘book colloseum’, according to the shape of design. A large umbrella like ceiling made of cedar wood looms overhead, whilst students sit at spacious desks, with books in cases spread out like seats in an area.
Address: 193-2 Okutsubakidai, Yuwa-Tsubakigawa, Akita
The historic inns of ginzan onsen line a small waterway which runs through the middle of this idyllic town. Here you’ll be able to explore Japanese architecture from the Taisho period. Once a booming silver mine, this is now a tranquil hot spring retreat for those who want to potter around the streets, wearing traditional yukata, dipping in and out of the baths. Fujiya Inn is the most picturesque ryokan of them all – so make sure you stop by for a look
Address: Ginzan, Obanazawa-shi, Yamagata 999-4333
SunnyHills at Minami Aoyama
This pineapple shaped building will catch your eye from streets away. Entirely made out of wood, it looks like a giant nest of randomnly piled planks. The shop is owned by SunnyHills, a Taiwanese pineapple cake maker, who offer free pineapple cake and tea for visitors. If you’re interested in art and design, stay in the same area and take a walk around to see other iconic buidlings such as the glass-façade of the Prada building nearby.
Address: 3-10-20 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 107 – 0062
Architect Kengo Kuma is responsible for the design of this museum – which houses pre-modern Japanese and East Asian art collected by businessman Nezu Kaichiro. His signature style of vertical lines is immediately visible as you approach, unlike the main entrance, which is off to the side, as you might find throughout traditional Japanese architectural styles.
Address: 6-5-1 Minami-aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 107-0062
Mori Art Museum
High up in the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower block lies a fascinating art museum in the sky. The Mori Art Museum is known for its excellent exhibitions, as well as enormous outdoor installations.
Art and design lovers will adore this gallery-cum-shinkansen, referred to as “the fastest art experience in the world”. The train is decorated both inside and out with works of art, and zips passengers between Echigo-Yuzawa and Niigata, with local Niigata snacks are served en route. One of the stops on the route is Tsubame-Sanjo, Japan’s number one metalware production area. Stop here to buy products such as beautifully handcrafted knives and hand-hammered copper sake cups. You can even visit factories to see the metalwork artisans at work.
“Too high house” is the literal name of this teahouse on stilts, which perches high above the trees in Nagano prefecture. Designed by Terunobu Fujimori, the teahouse is now an outdoor museum.
Site of Reversible Destiny, Gifu
If not only for the bafflingly bizarre name, visitors to Japan should take time to visit this outdoor sculpture museum, which invites visitors to climb all over it. Featuring caves, secret rooms and hidden enclosures, this is one of the most popular adventure art spots in Japan.
Address: 1298-2 Takabayashi, Yoro-cho, Yoro-gun, Gifu, 503-1267
Hotel Anteroom Kyoto
Just a hop, skip and jump from central Kyoto station, this concept hotel has turned its reception into an exhibition space, the entrance into a sculpture museum, and the guest rooms into galleries. Expect pop art installations and lots of colour at this adventurous gallery.
Address: 7 Aketa-cho, Higashi-kujo, Minami-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 601-8044
Toraya Kyoto Ichijo Shop
No visit to Kyoto is complete without indulging in this areas delicious sweets, but Toraya Kyoto Ichijo Shop offers a chance to do this in incredibly stylish surroundings. Just opposite the Kyoto Gyoen National Garden, the curved ceiling of the tearoom and the building’s open design allows the garden to flow into the building, welcoming passersby to come inside.
Kansai and Southern Honshu
Taneya Club Harie at La Collina Omihachiman
This building was designed by Terunobu Fujimori for the Japanese sweets company, Teneya Group. The giant facility includes restaurants and sweet shops, surrounded by rice paddies. Grass grows on the roof, and the walls curve like mushrooms, making it a fairytale like building nestled in the countryside of Shiga Prefecture.
Address: 615-1 Kitanosho-cho, Omihachiman-shi, Shiga, 523-0806
This cool cycling hotel was once a marine warehouse. Themed around cycling, the hotel conveniently sits next to the beginning of the Shimanami Kaido – a 60km cycling route across six islands in the Seto Inland Sea. The hotel has rooms equipped with bike racks, bike rental services are available, and the restaurant and café menus are designed with cyclists in mind.
Address: 5- 11 Nishigosho-cho, Onomichi-shi, Hiroshima, 722-0037.
Adachi Museum of Art
The Adachi Museum of art was originally founded by a local businessmen intent on sharing his love of Japanese art and gardens with the world. This beautiful landscape garden now attracts visitors from all over the world, offering a glimpse of Mr Adachi’s privately bought collection of art and crafts.
Address: 320 Furukawa-cho, Yasugi-shi, Shimane, 692-0064.
Teshima Art Museum
Teshima Art Museum is a concrete shell shaped like a water droplet. The specially designed construction allows wind, sound and light to enter the space, which is the equivalent size of nine tennis courts.
Address: 607 Karato, Teshima, Tonosho-cho, Shozu-gun, Kagawa 761-4662
Setouchi Art Triennale
With a scenic backdrop provided by the Seto Inland Sea, this is now one of the most famous experiences for art lovers visiting Japan. The Triennale first launched in 2010, and now covers 12 islands with works from over 200 artists. The large, outdoor installations which feature in the triennales often become permanent works of art, and a daily part of life for inhabitants of these islands.
Kyushu and Okinawa
Kyushu National Museum
A slight distance from the station, this impressive building is worth traipsing for! Designed by Kiyonori Kikutake, the glass walls of the museum mirror the surrounding trees and sky. The art collection inside mostly focuses on the relationship between Japan and its Asian neighbours.
Address: 4-7-2 Ishizaka, Dazaifu-shi, Fukuoka 818-0118
Kirishima Open-Air Museum
The museum exhibits works by artists from all over the world, seamlessly displayed in the magnificent natural landscapes of the Kirishima woods. The pieces include those by Japanese artists such as Yayoi Kusama, Yoko Ono, Isamu Noguchi, and Mitsuo Shigemura as well as those by many international artists from countries as diverse as the USA, Finland, Sweden, India and Israel. The Isamu Noguchi sculpture on display is titled "Ways of Discovery". Although it is not so large, it is one of his latest works, and magnificent and distinctive in style.
Address: 6340-220 Koba, Yusui-cho, Aira-gun, Kagoshima 899-6201
Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum
This striking looking structure will be easily recognisable to fans of Kengo Kuma, who designed the building in 2005. The enormous glass and stone structure is surrounded by a moat connected to the sea, promoting a visual harmony with its surroundings.
Address: 2-1 Dejima-machi, Nagasaki-shi, Nagasaki 850-0862
Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum
Aimed at preserving and promoting traditional Okinawan history and culture, this stylish museum is situated in Naha, on Okinawa’s main island. Local artists’ works are displayed here, depicting the complications of Okinawa’s modern history.
Address: 3-1-1 Omoro-machi, Naha-shi, Okinawa 900-0006.