The Hakone Open-Air Museum at Hakone in Japan was created in 1969 as an outdoor sculpture museum set within the picturesque surrounds of the Hakone mountains. The museum’s mission is to be “consistently astonishing as many people as possible with the delight that comes from experiencing art”. And it certainly does that, as we discovered when we spent a few hours there.
Since its foundation in 1969, the collection housed at Hakone Open Air Museum has grown to include an incredibly wide range of sculptural art pieces from around the world, displayed in the open air of the lush garden landscape. Plus there are a number of indoor galleries on the grounds displaying paintings, prints and ceramics, including a dedicated gallery for the Museum’s Picasso Collection. The Museum was initially established in collaboration with the Fujisankei Communications Group, but since 2012 has been a public interest incorporated foundation.
You don’t have to be art connoisseurs to enjoy a day at Hakone Open-Air Museum, but if you are…you’ll recognise that the collection contains an impressive representation of some of the world’s most important sculptural pieces works from the 19th and 20th centuries. Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Carl Milles, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Joan Miro, Fernand Leger, Anthony Gormley, Alberto Giacometti…there’s works by all these artists plus more.
We do love art, so were beside ourselves to see so many significant artworks in the one, very beautiful location. And, although our kids are hardened gallery and museum veterans, having been dragged around some of the world’s biggest museums, their eyes lit up when they saw that this was not your typical art museum.
Children of all ages would enjoy the wide-open spaces of Hakone Open-Air Museum, as well as appreciating the fact that the works are not behind glass with ‘do not touch’ signs. There are many pieces specifically included for children’s interaction, including the ‘Woods of Net’, a giant structure made of interlocked wood (like a log cabin toy) which contains a colourful knitted ‘play net’ by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam, which kids (under 12) can climb onto, over and through, and swing from. There’s also a curved diamond perspex sculpture, that again, kids under 12 can disappear into and explore the interior.
Then, there’s the Garden of Stars giant maze, which is topped with colourful garden beds. From the top, it looked like this:
The entire site is a verdant sloping 70,000m2 garden, thoughtfully planted with a selection of trees and flowers that complement the surrounding mountains but also play off the artworks. The gardens are designed to change with the seasons, so every experience of the Open-Air Museum would be different. As we exited through the gift shop, I flicked through a beautiful (but heavy) coffee table book which contained photos of the Museum throughout the year, and in all seasons the place was stunning.
Next to this pond and its ‘Floating Sculpture 3’ by Marta Pan was fish food that we fed to the eager carp. The sculptural pieces were very reminiscent of elements of the fish themselves. Doesn’t that round piece look like a pouting fish mouth?
At the bottom of the site is the Picasso pavilion, an indoor gallery which contains around 300 paintings, sculptures, photographs and ceramic works donated by Picasso’s daughter. As the rain was starting to fall when we reached that gallery, it was a welcome indoor interlude.
However much I loved the art, I have to confess that my favourite part of the entire complex was the hot springs footbath. After walking most of the day, we didn’t have to be told twice to remove our shoes, purchase a small towel from a vending machine and find a spot on the edge of the steaming pool to sit and plunge our feet. Oranges bobbed around, the hot water releasing oil from their skins, emitting a wonderful citrus aroma. The base of the pool was made of rounded pebbles which acted as a lovely reflexology massage.
As we sat there dangling our feet in the orange spring soup, we looked across the lawn to the ‘Symphonic Sculpture’ by Gabriel Loire, which is an 18 metre tower made of steel and stained glass. At the top is an outdoor deck with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. Once we finished up at the foot spring, we climbed the tower’s spiral staircase.
One of my favourite sculptors is the British artist, Antony Gormley. Sprawled out face-down on the lawn, one of his naked bronze figures is an unexpected foil to the nearby ‘World of the Sounds’ by Japanese artist, Genichiro Inokuma.
In an indoor gallery in the Museum’s main building, we strolled through a temporary exhibition by Akinori Matsumoto, an artist who creates sound objects predominantly out of bamboo pieces. In the large installation piece below, a variety of sound objects were projected onto a huge screen through a forest of bamboo objects.
The whole reason we added the area of Hakone to our Japan itinerary, was because we had heard about the Open-Air Museum and wanted to see it. It did not disappoint. Even if you don’t have time to have an overnight in Hakone, the Open-Air Museum can be visited as a day trip from Tokyo (although Hakone is so beautiful and relaxing, it would be a shame not to stay for longer…)
The detailsThe Hakone Open-Air Museum
Address: Ninotaira 1121, Hakone-machi, Ashigarashimo-gun, Kanagawa Prefecture 250-0493
Museum Hours: 9am to 5pm, 365 days/year
Admission fee: 1,600 yen (adults), 1,200 (university & high school students), 800 (middle & elementary school students)
To get there from Odawara (nearest JR station):
By train:Take the Odakyu Line from Odawara Station to Hakone Yumoto Station, then take the Hakone Tozan Railway to Chokoku-no-Mori Station, then it is a 2 minute walk to the museum.
By bus: Take the Odakyu Line from Odawara Station to Hakone Yumoto Station, then take the Hakone Tozan or Izu-Hakone Bus to Ninotaira Iriguchi bus stop, then it is a 5 minute walk to the museum.
Would an open-air museum be on your to-see list?
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