17 June 2013

Hakone: Japan's Amazing Open Air Museum

Close to both Tokyo and Mount Fuji the small town of Hakone holds something of a revelation.  However, unless you are from Japan, you may well not have heard of it.  The town plays host to a large open air museum where the works of many famous artists are held - outdoors.  It is an attempt (and a successful one) to balance art and nature in harmony.  The artworks, combined with the beautiful views of the surrounding mountains give the visitor an unforgettable experience.

There are surprises around every corner at this unique museum, sights which will provoke thought and sometimes even laughter.  This head on its side looks like some vast relic of a long vanished civilisation.
Perhaps before you start to explore the massive grounds you should visit the extravagant stained glass tower which in the light of summer is like something from a fairy tale.  You can climb to the top and check out the rest of the museum from here, so you can plan which pieces to visit next (but the choice can be bewildering).

From the top of the staircase you can take a look at what else is on offer - below is just one of the angles to be surveyed from its dizzy heights. The breathtaking beauty of the surrounding countryside is a marvellous environment for these fluid sculptures.  A far cry from a stuffy museum.

The Japanese have a unique and sometimes impenetrable sense of humour (from the perspective of a Westerner).  However, they do have a sense of fun which is easy to understand, even when it comes to art.  The above is Shaun of the Dead, based on the famous zombie movie and created by its writer and star Simon Pegg and its director, Edgar Wright.  The movie has cult status in Japan probably everywhere to tell the truth).

Among the more thought provoking pieces is Man and Pagasus by Carl Milles. Milles was perhaps better known for his fountains but the Swedish sculptor excelled himself with this hugely powerful piece showing man’s desire to tame nature.

Phillip King, who was once Henry Moore's assistant turned to Japan in the nineties and produced a series of innovative scultpures outside his normal style, one of which can be found in the garden (above).

There are many original pieces in the environs – and if you are a fan of Henry Moore  you will probably think you have died and gone to heaven. In the distance here you can see the stained glass tower featured further up this article.

As if all this is not enough, there is also a Picasso exhibition.  As the bulk of his work represented here is ceramic it is shown indoors.

There are plenty of mysteries to discover and explore at Hakone.  But will they ever be solved?  The park has so much to offer you may well end up feeling something like the person below.

You may think this all looks marvellous, but what am I going to do with the kids? There are, unlike many museums, plenty of pieces of art to engage the kids.  Typically for the Japanese, children are well catered for.  The new pavilion especially made for children is a sight to behold whether or not you are ten years old (but from their smaller perspective it must seem like an adventure playground from the heavens).

The castle of nets is meant for children – but on a quiet day you will find that the curators will turn a blind eye to adults having a swing or two.

In fact a number of the pieces seem to have that as their primary aim.  An amazing four story maze bee hive is, for sure, something that not many children will be able to resist clambering around.

There is also a garden maze in which you can lose yourself or the kids.

Plus, any youthful fan of geometry will have a whale of a time there too.

As well as all of the above there are also numerous pieces by lesser known artists.  You will need at least four hours to see the museum properly and in order to do this as far from the madding art lovers as possible, get there when it opens at nine in the morning.