In Japan's pulsing, cosmopolitan capital, the refined realm of art is more diverse and internationalized than ever. Read on to see Tokyo through the discerning eyes of a gallery owner, and for insider introductions to some noteworthy bastions of brushwork and bohemia.
Traditional and contemporary, refined and organic, exclusive and eclectic, inspired and inspiring: Japan has long been a premier destination for art lovers.
In Tokyo, especially, the art scene is bursting with life. The Japanese capital boasts more art museums and galleries than any other city in Japan, making it the ideal place to explore to see a vast range of artistic treasures. And the diversity of Tokyo's art scene in recent years has only been increasing, according to Koki Ishibashi, the founder and director of KOKI ARTS.
"The vibe is getting better and better, with more of an international feel, too," the Japan-born, United States-raised art expert says at his modern, compact gallery in Tokyo's Higashi-Kanda district. He opened KOKI ARTS in 2012 following completion of a master's degree in art history from Keio University and a period working at an art auction house.
Having seen the wealth of talent in New York, where he lived as a child with his professional artist parents, Ishibashi is passionate about showing works by both Japanese and American artists - in a roughly 50-50 split - to contribute to the global nature of Tokyo's art scene.
"Because I identify as Japanese and American, I try to show the best artists I can from both countries," he says. "And I try to show artists from a variety of backgrounds, too."
Among KOKI ARTS' exhibitions so far, therefore, is a compelling mix of artists ranging from emerging to well-established, who have created figurative and abstract work.
Through visiting exhibitions and artist studios across Japan, Ishibashi has even found up-and-coming Japanese artists who have since shown overseas in places such as New York, Dallas, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
"Tokyo's art scene is very accessible," he says, adding that it is often easier to find, appreciate, and even purchase art in Japan's capital compared to other cities around the world. Living in Tokyo also gives Ishibashi opportunities to see new kinds of creations and fresh ideas, which he strives to showcase at KOKI ARTS.
Two places of particular importance to Ishibashi are Tokyo Gallery and Bohemian's Guild, as they demonstrate the rich nature of the contemporary art scene in Tokyo.
At Tokyo Gallery, introducing the latest art forms to the world is a priority. The Ginza-based gallery is recognized as the first contemporary art gallery in Japan and, even now in its eighth decade of operations, continues to play a pivotal role in the contemporary art scene in the country. As the first gallery to focus on contemporary art from East Asia - including Japan, China, and South Korea - it is renowned for its top-quality exhibitions of Asian artists, many of whom have more works at Tokyo Gallery than in their home countries.
Meanwhile, in Tokyo's Jimbocho, a district famous for used-book stores and publishing houses, art and books come together to delight fans of paintings and literature alike.
The first floor of Bohemian's Guild, an antique book store and art gallery established in 1924, is home to shelf upon shelf of books related to art, design, photography, architecture, film, and other creative works. On the second floor is a gallery dedicated to original postwar and contemporary art works such as paintings, ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) and other prints, rare books such as limited and first editions, and autographs. Visitors can enjoy a truly immersive experience by seeing various artistic works up close.
Whether your interest is gazing on abstract paintings at KOKI ARTS, wandering around contemporary exhibitions at Tokyo Gallery, or perusing antique books at Bohemian's Guild, Tokyo offers unlimited opportunities to appreciate the diverse range of art in Japan.