There must be about 400 art galleries in Tokyo’s Ginza district alone. Which ones are worth a visit is really subjective to tastes, and the artist on display. If you are new to the city, reserving a day just to explore some of the many galleries in this area without any real expectations would be an exciting feat. To be honest, edgy and quirky were two words that fogged my presumption of what undertones would peek out from Japanese art. Most galleries showcase contemporary artists from all over Southeast Asia, more commonly from Thailand, Japan, China and Korea, whose aesthetic sensibilities are sophisticated, and not very different from western brushstrokes.
About a 10-minute walk from the Ginza station towards 8-chome (Ginza is divided into eight parts) is Gallery Art Point(GAP) in the Marunouchi area, right next to a police station. The basement atelier is known for its contemporary choices since 1969. Anybody who can appreciate modern art forms is more likely to find themselves enjoying a performance splashed on canvases, through installations or in beguiling gambols. As if in contradiction to its existence is Seikodo Ltd for the antique-enthusiasts, right above GAP. Walking into this two-storied narrow space allows a close look at what detailing went into beautifying even the simplest cufflink on a samurai’s armour. The best part of it all is the entire costume, assembled from helmet to shoes for close examination.
Not far from here is the BTAP (Tokyo Gallery + Beijing Tokyo Art Projects). They believe in merging the western and eastern worlds when it comes to art. They boast of introducing many non-Asian artists to the Japanese, and Asian artists to the world. Close to 70 years since conception, a visit promises either edgy art from the west or proficiently experimental nouveau art with a future.
If a break is in order, on the ground floor of this building is a delightful Art For Thought Gallery + Café. To leave without enthusing over their green tea cake served with fig compote would be a shame. On display are the very progressive arts, either as digital print on t-shirts or printed inside frames. All of them are up for sale – budding artists supply some of them, and a few others are by art students.
In the vicinity is the Ginza Graphic Gallery or ggg or 3g, founded as a cultural hub by Nippon Printing Co. Ltd. and is known for its digitally produced illustrations. While Japanese artists use this space to learn and emote through photographs, graphic designing, and typography, veteran international artists like Anish Kapoor are also found to be on display here. It would be safe to assume that this can be interpreted as a learning workspace for many with its open talk evenings and other interactive activities. This is one room where the visitor can be occupied for hours. There is a quick wit to the pieces on display, something like a pattern in its 12 exhibitions held annually.
Interestingly, the Shiseido store has a gallery in its basement as well. The show on display at the time of my visit was bizarre – to appreciate such art would have to be an acquired taste. Moving on, with map in hand, it isn’t possible to walk a single lane in Ginza without passing even one gallery. This area can be deciphered as the Mecca for artists. It is as if the main street is reserved for high-street and luxury fashion designs, and the bylanes for the interpretational designs.
Another district worth a trip would have to be Roppongi. Again, it is a beautiful balance of shopping for local Japanese fashion and pleasing soulful aesthetic needs. But getting here during the day would be more advisable as the nights bring out its more notorious side. They even have a Roppongi Art Night once a year. Apart from a large installation that can be enjoyed over local fare from kiosks, an occasional walk into interactive displays dotting the mall is quite possible.
If the whole weaving through the small and big galleries of Ginza or doing rounds of Roppongi is a laborious affair, a scenic walk from the Kiyosumi-Shirakawa station into the Koto-ku suburb is indeed a treat to any explorer. About 12 minutes of an unhurried stroll along a sprawling prairie, a local school, little houses and hidden shrines, are rewarded with a vertical art district. The top two floors are of an adaptable personality with sculptures, installations, abstract art, digital works and colours on canvases. To bump into an artist here could be a likely probability – mainly because the six to seven piled up art spaces and their exhibit-changes are hardly synchronised, in this way seeing a frequent coming and going of artists. Making a late-afternoon visit to here would be more worthwhile as this can then end with a blowfish supper in a very Japanese restaurant (by appointment only) in 135-0024 Kiyosumi, Koto-ku.
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