The Japanese are known to transform almost everything – from the lofty to the mundane – into an artistic exercise. From the way they pack their lunch, beautify their garden, prepare food, to how they move and dress for their traditional festivals, the list is endless. That’s one of the very reasons that, if you are planning to study abroad to experience the art of other cultures, Japan should be top of your list. The following are just some of the best places to encounter Japan’s art and design.
Tokyo’s Art Museums
Japan’s capital city, Tokyo, is high on the list of the country’s centres of art and culture. Students who study abroad in Tokyo should take advantage of the city’s highly accessible art museums, each of which is worthy of hours of educational exploration. The Edo-Tokyo Museum’s high-tech, modern façade should by no means mislead you into assuming what it may contain. It is home to a chronicle of the city’s hundreds of years of history, through exhibited replicas, artefacts, dioramas and other art pieces, all with helpful volunteers to guide visitors. The Tokyo National Museum is, quite simply (and logically), the world’s largest repository of Japanese art pieces. From swords to samurai armour, woodblock prints, religious artefacts and art, it’s there. The antiques are exceptionally intriguing.
The Famous ‘Art Island’
Naoshima, in the Seto Inland Sea, is a renowned fixture on Japan’s contemporary art scene. It is home to three important art galleries as well as a smattering of other art venues, each of which presents its own interesting side of the big picture. For students in the country to study abroad, the island’s art destinations are a must-visit. Foremost is the Benesse House, which is a hotel that houses an art gallery exhibiting the works of such artists as Frank Stella and Bruce Nauman. Moreover, Naoshima’s artistic treasures are not confined in traditional spaces; you will find the most interesting of them outdoors, such as along the beachfront, parks, even the public baths. In Honmura, for instance, many old buildings have been made into permanent art installations.
It is said that geishas – Japan’s traditional esteemed female entertainers – are an embodiment of all the Japanese consider as beautiful. If you have read Arthur Golden’s ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, or seen the 2005 film version of it, you’ll understand why: the women who spend their entire lives perfecting not only the performing arts of the day, but also the delicate art of conversation and song. Where else could you best experience this fascinating aspect of Japan’s performing arts (especially if you’re here to study abroad) than in the country’s oldest entertainment district – Gion, in Kyoto? Although students visiting these days might hardly imagine how the district was in the days of Golden’s book, the place has retained its atmosphere and architecture, such as the Minamiza Theatre (the country’s oldest venue for its kabuki or drama performances) and the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theatre (to encounter geisha for educational purposes).