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Here and There :
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Here and There introduces art, artists, galleries, museums, and other cultural facilities around Japan that non-Japanese readers and first-time visitors may find of particular interest.

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image image Virtual Art Redux: More Online Exhibitions from Japan
Alan Gleason
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Japan's government-decreed state of emergency was lifted on 25 May and, as of this posting, museums nationwide are free to reopen. However, precautions are still being taken against the coronavirus, with most facilities requiring some form of distancing as well as the use of masks and hand sanitizer. Some are admitting visitors by reservation only, or requesting that people from outside their city or prefecture stay away. Exhibitions that were delayed or suspended during the months of April and May are generally being extended by a few weeks, though the timing varies from venue to venue.

For a while yet, then, circumstances are less than ideal for those of us itching to see some art up close and personal, especially if that would require traveling out of town. For the time being the Internet still has a role to play, not only for overseas readers with a fondness for Japanese art, but also for those of us in-country. With that in mind, here are a few more sites that offer an enjoyable online encounter with art in Japan.

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The Honkan (main building) of the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park. Courtesy of the Tokyo National Museum

Tokyo National Museum

Japan's oldest and most prestigious museum (due to reopen on 2 June) boasts an unparalleled online presence. Several museums offer interior "street views" via the Google Arts & Culture site, but TNM's selection is particularly abundant, with cyber-tours of its many galleries and zoomable images of hundreds of individual works of art. The highlight is a super-hi-res (7 billiion pixels!), full-screen presentation of Maple Viewers, a 16th-century screen painting by Kano Hideyori. Also worth watching are the museum's English Online Videos, viewable on YouTube. Anywhere from 2 to 15 minutes long, they cover content ranging from the aforementioned street views to demonstrations of woodblock printing and the restoration of several National Treasures. All come with English narrations and subtitles.

Another excellent portal to TNM is The Magic of Japanese Masterpieces, an English-language series of several dozen online shows accessible via NHK World-Japan, the international service of Japan's public TV network. Each segment introduces a prized work from the museum's 110,000-item collection with zoomable still images and a highly informative ten-minute narration.

E-Museum

Subtitled "National Treasures & Important Cultural Properties in National Museums, Japan," this site run by the National Institutes for Cultural Heritage affords free multilingual access to a vast store of pictures of the most prized works housed in the four national museums in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, and Kyushu. Each work is represented by a hi-res image accompanied by a detailed description. Hundreds of designated treasures and properties can be found here under a dozen categories -- painting, calligraphy, swords, lacquerware, metalwork and so on. The Tokyo National Museum's massive trove of Horyuji Treasures gets its own section.

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The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures, Room 2, at the Tokyo National Museum. Photo by Akira Sato. Courtesy of the Tokyo National Museum

Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo

MOT's big show featuring the ecology-themed installations of the celebrated Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, Sometimes the river is the bridge, was temporarily suspended, but will reopen on 9 June and run till 27 September (the museum itself reopens on 2 June). Meanwhile, the MOT website has abundant material in English about the exhibition, as well as a link to a stunning and comprehensive online presentation created by Eliasson's studio with English text, stills and video clips. The Eliasson show is not the only treat MOT is offering viewers online, however. Two concurrent exhibitions, Things Entangling and The Potentiality of Drawing, can also be enjoyed through copious stills and a series of 60-second video tours. Things Entangling is also the subject of COVID-19 May 2020, a haunting video that guides us through the exhibition's deserted gallery during the corona shutdown.

An in-depth video interview with Eliasson in English can also be found on YouTube, courtesy of the Staying Tokyo site set up by Rhizomatiks, the innovative multimedia creator collective. Launched to develop an experimental "social distancing communication platform" for people to share while sheltering in place, the entire site looks like fun, but aside from some introductory texts its only English content so far appears to be the Eliasson interview.

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Olafur Eliasson, Beyond-human resonator, 2019. Photo: Jens Ziehe. Courtesy of the artist; neugerriemschneider, Berlin; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York / Los Angeles

ShugoArts

Ranking in the top tier of Tokyo's contemporary art galleries, ShugoArts offers extensive information in English about its shows and artists. Its most recent exhibition, Aki Kondo: Flowers in the Heart, was interrupted by the shutdown, and unfortunately will not resume when the gallery reopens in June. However, you can still view a silent 7-minute online show that pans slowly through the gallery and offers close-ups of the works, concluding with a brief text by the artist in both Japanese and English. Best known for her near-abstract deformations of human, animal, and plant figures, Kondo here offers simpler, brighter portrayals of flowers, faces and other subjects, all in a colorful acrylic palette that will bring cheer to the housebound. The site's Online Catalogue introduces other artists in the ShugoArts stable as well -- Yasumasa Morimura, Leiko Ikemura, and Yuji Ono to name a few. Every profile features an artist interview video with English subtitles.

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Aki Kondo, Day for Arranging Flowers, 2020 (detail), © the artist, courtesy of ShugoArts. Photo: Shigeo Muto

Arakawa+Gins: Stay Home Distraction Series

Among the contemporary art world's supercouples, the late Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins made a splash with their avowed pursuit of architecture that would extend the human lifespan. Their life and work, particularly through the Reversible Destiny Foundation, were dedicated to the proposition that "aging can be outlawed." One of their hallmark creations is a colorfully conspicuous residential complex, the Reversible Destiny Lofts, located next to a busy thoroughfare in the west Tokyo suburb of Mitaka. Described as "a culmination of their research into the way the body interacts with the architectural space that surrounds it," the edifice is showcased in the 80-minute film Children Who Won't Die (2010), part of a "Stay Home Distraction Series" of videos by and about the artists recently launched by the still-active Reversible Destiny Foundation and the Arakawa + Gins Tokyo Office. All are subtitled in English.

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From the film Children Who Won't Die, Arakawa. Photo by Masataka Nakano, courtesy of Arakawa + Gins Tokyo Office, © 2005 Estate of Madeline Gins. Reproduced with permission of the Estate of Madeline Gins

Yamatane Museum of Art

A favorite museum of Nihonga buffs, the elegantly appointed Yamatane in Hiroo, Tokyo often holds seasonally themed exhibitions of works selected from its vast collection of modern Japanese-style paintings. This year it has not yet been able to reopen Sakura, Sakura, Sakura 2020, its springtime ode to that perennial Nihonga motif, the cherry blossom. Though the museum plans to extend the show (originally slated to end on 10 May), its reopening schedule has yet to be announced as of press time. Happily, the Yamatane website displays a selection of splendiferous images from the exhibition. Not only balm for the eye and soul, they serve as a timely reminder that the sakura will bloom for us again in less than a year, virus or no virus.

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Yokoyama Taikan, Mountain Cherry Trees, 1934, color on silk, Yamatane Museum of Art


 
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Alan Gleason
Alan Gleason is a translator, editor and writer based in Tokyo, where he has lived for over 30 years. Since 2006 he has edited Artscape Japan and written the Here and There column, as well as translating the Picks reviews. He also edits and translates works on Japanese architecture, music, and theater.
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