Culture in the Capital: Some of the Best Free Art Galleries in Tokyo
From the historical Okuno Building in Ginza to art spaces in Harajuku, here’s a hand-picked list of some of Tokyo’s best, free art galleries.
Tokyo has literally hundreds of galleries and museums and is a true cultural hub when it comes to the arts. Some top choices among tourists and art virtuosos alike include the Mori Art Museum, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the National Art Center. However, dig a little deeper into Tokyo’s rich and diverse art scene and you’ll discover a whole bunch of smaller, quirky (and totally free!) gallery spaces. Here’s a hand-picked list of just some of the best, free art galleries in Tokyo:
First up is Design Festa Gallery. Located in the middle of Harajuku, Tokyo’s kawaii-capital and centre of all things pop-culture, it’s a super cool, free gallery/cafe/bar/studio space with a striking exterior (check the photo). Inside, it’s set up like a bunch of apartments, with each room exhibiting works by different local artists. As you wander through the rooms, you’ll meet lots of friendly artists who are happy to tell you the story of their work. There’s also a cafe/bar called Sakura-tei with creatively themed rooms.
West Building: 3-20-18 Jingu-Mae, Shibuya-ku
East Building: 3-20-2 Jingu-Mae, Shibuya-ku
Jinkinoko is Japan’s only gallery dedicated to street art. Depending on when you arrive, the space will be exhibiting local or international artists’ work and also selling a range of art, cool T-shirts and more featuring the various artists’ designs. Although it’s a compact, two-story space, it’s interesting to chat to the owner about Japan’s complex relationship with street art and see how the scene is evolving here. You can read more about the gallery at this article: Urban Art in the Nation of Tradition.
22-1 Sarugaku-cho, Daikanyama, Shibuya-ku
This 200-year-old public bathhouse has been converted into an avant-garde gallery that provides a unique space for both Japanese and international artists to showcase their work. Aside from the diverse art inside, the building itself is interesting to check out because it has managed to retain much of its original features. You can still see the old shoe lockers at the entrance and much of the original architecture, like the tiled roof, is still intact.
6-1-23 Yanaka, Kashiwayu-Ato, Taito-ku
Located in the basement of the DIESEL store in Shibuya, DIESEL ART GALLERY holds four art exhibitions each year, inviting artists from across various genres and countries of the world. Past exhibitions have included Candadian digital artist Mad Dog Jones and Japanese street photographer RK. The space is admittedly on the small side, but always features exciting or innovative creatives. Plus, since it’s only a few minutes from Shibuya Station by foot, it’s worth checking out if you’re in the area.
1-23-16 B1F, Cocoti, Shibuya-ku
The UltraSuperNew Gallery is an interactive space that invites artists from all kinds of genres and countries to exhibit and create. Located in the pop-culture hub of Harajuku, it’s no wonder that the gallery’s exhibits often feature quirky artists working at the forefront of art, design and photography. If you’re in Harajuku, it’s worth dropping by!
1-1-3 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
This gallery is set in a large, elegant glass space on the top floor of the Louis Vuitton building, which was designed by Japanese architect Jun Aoki. It features many contemporary arts from diverse backgrounds, including Christian Boltanski, Yang Fudong and Steve McQueen. As an added bonus, the light, sleek space also has stunning views of the Tokyo skyline, so it’s especially great to visit here when the sun is setting (it closes at 8pm).
5-7-5 Louis Vuitton Omotesando Bldg. 7F, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
Want to know more places for views of the Tokyo skyline? Check out: Best Free Views of Tokyo
Five minutes by foot from Tabata Station is WISH LESS. This little gem is an independent art gallery founded by the Japanese graphic designer Yoko Nagai and British illustrator Rob Kidney. It’s packed with art and quirky miscellaneous goods for you to explore and features imported items as well as independent brands that are crafted in Japan. The gallery often hosts diverse events, everything from fashion shows to gigs. There’s a real passion here for art and community.
5-12-10 Tabata Kita-ku, Tokyo
FUJIFILM SQUARE by Roppongi Midtown Great hosts truly stunning photography exhibits from a diverse range of photographers all throughout the year. There’s also antique and vintage cameras as well as displays that tell the history of FUJIFILM and the wider background of the photography industry. There’s also the FUJIFILM HEALTHCARE SHOP, which offers a range of cosmetic products created thanks to FUJIFILM’s long history of researching collagen, a crucial element for photographic film, as well as human skin.
9-7-3 Akasaka, Minato-ku
Literally meaning “culture village,” Bunkamura is a multicultural hub in Shibuya. Aside from boasting a theater, concert hall, museum and cinema, the complex is also home to the Bunkamura Gallery art space. It organizes around 30 exhibitions per year, and features a rental space artists can use to create their art in and share their work with the public.
2-24-1 Dogenzaka, Shibuya City-ku
Discover art, antique and history all in one place at the Okuno Building. Tucked between the ultramodern buildings in Ginza, one of Tokyo’s most affluent and glitziest shopping and entertainment neighborhoods, the Okuno Building was once one of the most luxurious apartment buildings back in the 1930s. Now, it’s a piece of architectural history in its own right, having even survived the Tokyo bombings of World War II. Head inside and up the marvellously antique, manually operated elevator and you’ll discover a maze of art galleries and studios that were originally the building’s chic apartments. There’ll be anything from 20-50 gallery rooms open on any given day and usually some artists around to chat to about their work.
1-9-8 Ginza, Chuo-ku
Craving even more culture in the capital? Check out this article: A List of the Best Free Museums in Tokyo
Written by: Jessie Carbutt
Originally from the UK, Jess lives, works and writes in Japan. A lover of exploring and anything creative, she's always discovering new things in her Tokyo home.
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