The Art Lover’s Guide to Japanese Museums

The Art Lover's Guide to Japanese Museums

Title: The Art Lover’s Guide to Japanese Museums
Author: Sophie Richard
Publication Year: 2014
Publisher: The Japan Society
Pages: 176

According to the good people at The Japan Society, art historian Sophie Richard’s The Art Lover’s Guide to Japanese Museums has been very popular, quickly selling out of its first print run. Between its convenience as a guide and its beauty as a physical object, it’s easy to understand why.

The Art Lover’s Guide to Japanese Museums is so titled because it’s aimed at serious art appreciators who are willing to go off the beaten path in order to visit smaller museums that offer a more personalized and intimate experience. Richard skips the large national institutions and instead highlights private or regional galleries that would be worthy of a day trip or that necessitate a willingness to venture off the beaten path in urban and suburban areas. Based on my personal experience with several of these museums, the trip will definitely be worth it.

The main body of the guide is divided into five sections: Tokyo, Around Tokyo, Kyoto Area, West, and East (with “West” designating the area from Osaka to Hiroshima and “East” designating the area from Nagoya to Aomori). 29 of the 52 museums profiled are in or around Tokyo. In some cases, a location “around Tokyo” might require a long train ride and an overnight stay, but most are well within the city limits or accessible by commuter rail.

Most of the entries are two pages long. Each opens with the museum’s address in English and Japanese and general information (hours, holidays, access, website). This is followed with three paragraphs of description. The content of varies but can include information about the museum’s history, the highlights of its collection, and the availability of English text or audio guides. The short “In the neighborhood” section at the end of every entry tempts the reader out into the open to take in the layout of the town, the local cuisine, nearby temples, and even other museums. Each entry also includes two or three full-color photographs of the museum space and representative works from its holdings. The occasional four-page entries are usually longer because of their inclusion of more pictures, all of which are gorgeous.

Even if you’re not planning on visiting Japan, browsing through The Art Lover’s Guide to Japanese Museums is still enjoyable, as Richard’s articulate prose guides the reader through the experience of visiting the galleries. For example, writing on the Chichu Art Museum designed by Andō Tadao, Richard offers this intriguing description:

The museum’s complex space includes passageways and stairs set at sharp angles and a courtyard with evergreen plants that contrast starkly with the grey concrete. The interior of the building is lit with natural light alone. At the heart of the museum, five monumental paintings by Claude Monet from the late Waterlilies series appear to float mysteriously in a serene space gently illuminated by the sun’s rays, which are diffused through channels in the ceiling. Security guards wearing futuristic white uniforms ask visitors to remove their shoes before entering the room, which adds to the compelling atmosphere.

As in the excerpt above, Richard does walkthroughs like Sherlock Holmes, albeit with less of an emphasis on dry facts and with more of an emphasis on atmosphere. If you’d prefer to travel from the comfort of your own sofa, Guide to Japanese Museums is a perfect companion.

Also included in the guide are a short “Introduction” in which the author explains her motivations for embarking on this project, an overview of “Museums in Japan,” a six-page essay on “Looking at Japanese art,” and a brief list of “Tips and advice.” These sections are useful regardless of whether you’re making plans to visit Japan or whether you’re already there. For instance, this is the first time I’ve heard of the Grutt Pass, a ¥2,000 booklet that provides one-time admission to several of the museums profiled in this guide.

I should add that Guide to Japanese Museums came with me across the North American continent twice during the past two months, and it’s still in pristine condition. The book is lightweight and flexible, and it can easily be slipped inside a backpack or a suitcase. If I couldn’t destroy it, it’s more than likely safe with you as well, so don’t feel as if you need to leave it on a shelf while you go and have adventures, whether those adventures are in Japan or at your local café.

Review copy provided by The Japan Society of the UK.

Cool Japan Guide

Cool Japan Guide

Title: Cool Japan Guide: Fun in the Land of Manga, Lucky Cats and Ramen
Artist: Abby Denson
Publication Year: 2015
Publisher: Tuttle
Pages: 127

Abby Denson is a comics writer who has worked on a number of high-profile and kid-friendly titles, such as the comic adaptations of Powerpuff Girls and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. She’s also drawn two graphic novels of her own, Dolltopia and Tough Love: High School Confidential, both of which I love beyond all reason. She has a quirky style all her own, and her charm shines from everything she creates.

I should probably get this out of the way first – Denson is a wonderful writer, but her art can sometimes be a little uneven. In Cool Japan Guide, the continuity between panels is inconsistent, and her characters all tend to have the same の∇の facial expression. The coloring is absolutely flat, and the bright primary colors can occasionally clash against each other violently.

Even if Denson’s art style isn’t to your taste, is Cool Japan Guide still worth reading?

It definitely is!

As you progress through the book, the art will grow on you, I promise. Denson has a special talent for depicting places and objects, and the details of each panel are fun and creatively stylized.

All of Denson’s travel advice is spot-on. Seriously, this woman has excellent taste – if she recommends something, then it’s definitely worth doing. By all means, check out the train-themed socks for sale at Tokyo Station! Try the sweet potato soft serve ice cream in Kamakura! Enjoy a cocktail at the 8bit Café in Shinjuku! Make plans to attend the Kaigai Manga Festa! Soak in the warm water and kitschy atmosphere of Oedo Onsen Monogatari!

Cool Japan Guide also offers a fair bit of reference material, such as websites with travel resources and smartphone apps convenient for tasks like train scheduling and quickly finding phrases in Japanese. Each chapter is preceded by eight or nine useful words or expressions, and the hand-drawn map of Japan at the end of the book is a treasure, especially for people planning longer journeys.

Cool Japan Guide is definitely not for the type of thirty-something hipsters who are into the Wallpaper* city guides or the type of forty-something yuppies who are into Fodor’s, but I can imagine a younger person smiling with joy while reading through the book. Since Denson takes care to ensure that the content is family-friendly, the book would make a great gift for a child or teenager. The gentle silliness and positivity of the guide succeed in making it enjoyable for older readers as well.

For more pictures, stories, and news, Abby Denson has her own website, and Cool Japan Guide has its own Tumblr.

Review copy provided by Tuttle.

Cool Japan Guide Page 37