Art Museums in Japan

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I’m an art major, and part of the reason I wanted to come to Japan was to see all the wonderful museums and galleries, as well as get a feel for what inspires Japanese artists.  Though I’ve been in Tokyo for one month already, I haven’t been to all that many galleries.  But last weekend, on a very rainy Sunday, I got to go to the Yokohama Museum of Art with my Japanese friend.  I was going to see the last day of an exhibit by one of my favorite Japanese artists, Nara Yoshitomo.  For someone like me who loves Japan and loves art, this outing really couldn’t get any better.

Yokohama is a bit far from where I am staying- about an hour and a half by train.  But I thought it was worth it and I’d been wanting to go to Yokohama.  My commute to school every day is also an hour and a half by train, which I was really worried about.  But once I started doing it, I found the ride wasn’t bad at all.  In fact, I enjoy it.  It’s the perfect time to listen to music, read a book, or study.  If you get a seat, you hardly notice the long commute.  So I used the ride to Yokohama for some good quality conversation with my friend, trying to learn more about the culture of Japan.

As I said before, it was a very rainy day on the day we went.  It’s monsoon season because the season is changing, so it’s been raining frequently.  But I think rainy days are perfect for going to museums.  After we got some lunch at a Chinese restaurant that my friend picked out, we went up to the impressive building.  There were many people going to catch the last day of the exhibit, mostly Japanese people, although I did see many foreigners there as well.

Although I went to see the artwork, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I found it very interesting to be looking at work by a Japanese artist with Japanese viewers.  For one thing, in a room full of work, people walked around in a counter-clockwise way.  I was used to going clockwise around a room.  But besides that, I tried to see people’s reactions to the works.  I wanted to know if they liked the pieces.  To my dismay, I couldn’t tell anyone’s reactions or emotions at all.  They were totally straight-faced.  I mentioned this to my friend, and coincidentally, he had been doing the same thing as me- trying to gauge people’s reactions.  Though he was born and raised in Japan, he said he couldn’t tell anyone’s emotions either.  They looked straight-faced to him, too.  From the foreigners there, I could somewhat tell what they were thinking about the piece, or at least whether or not they liked it.  My friend and I both thought it was strange and we pondered it for a while.

I was really happy I got to go to the museum with this particular friend, because I’ve never talked about art from a “Japanese” perspective, by which I mean with a Japanese person from and in Japan.  It made me think about art a lot differently.  Actually, my friend was asking ME a lot of questions about what I thought about the art, and some very difficult questions as well, such as “Why do artists exist?”  This question is normally very difficult even when you’re speaking to someone who has the same first language as you, but trying to communicate these ideas across second languages was perhaps one of the most intellectually challenging things I’ve ever done.  If you go to a different country to study art, I think it’s essential to talk to someone from that country about art.  Personally, it really expanded my mind, and forced me to think of new ways to explain things.

Entrance piece for the Nara Yoshitomo exhibit at Yokohama Museum of Art

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