Four Museums You Won’t Want to Miss in Hakone


Hakone’s many museums offer visitors the opportunity to see a variety of fine art in spectacular settings.

By Sarah Custen

A New Point of View: The Okada Museum of Art

The Okada Museum of Art is a new addition to the myriad arts and entertainment offerings of this popular getaway area. However, this newcomer, which opened in Fall 2013, is already distinguishing itself from the pack. A visit to the Okada Museum of Art is more than just a day trip; it’s an authentic, full experience, a journey to the heart of Japanese culture.

The unique experience begins long before you arrive in the welcoming courtyard, as the journey there is half the joy. Making your way from the frenzied pace of Shinjuku Station, you can feel the urban energy begin to fade away as you take the Odakyu line to Hakone-Yumoto Station, and make your leisurely course, via switchback train to Kowakudani and the quiet of the region’s hills and forests. “Tokyo is the big city, but it only takes about two hours to come to Hakone to refresh and relax,” said Aika Chikamori, Assistant Curator. “Hakone is a very good location for city people.”

This private museum has made public an abundance of Japanese and Eastern cultural treasures from the personal collection of Kazuo Okada, which includes early-modern Japanese paintings, East Asian ceramics and Buddhist sacred statues dating back to the 11th century. Okada’s lifetime of passionate and discerning collecting has led to an impressive cross-section of Japanese art history that focuses exclusively on works created in Japan or passed down within Japan through the years, housed in a streamlined modern building that nevertheless fits perfectly into its natural surroundings. “I fully believe that the collections will be able to fully satisfy the diverse interests of our many visitors,” said Kobayashi Tadashi, the museum’s director.

Fukui Kotaro, Wind/Time, 2013

One luxury of the site, and easily the museum’s brightest highlight, is the singular experience of contemporary, Japanese painter Kotaro Fukui’s magnificent mural, Wind/Time. In a resounding echo of Tawaraya Sotatsu’s Wind God and Thunder God Screens (found in the Kennin-ji Temple, Kyoto), Fukui’s mural measures 12 meters high and 30 meters wide and is best viewed from the on-site foot bath, where you can soak your feet in natural hot springs while enjoying a beverage from the café.

Further complementing the natural surroundings are the museum’s 15,000 square meters of gardens interwoven with streams and plant life, as well as a traditional Japanese restaurant overlooking a tranquil koi pond. Complementary boots and umbrellas are readily available, in case of rain, which somehow seems to enhance the garden’s beauty.

Okada Museum of Art is a wonderful experience for those new to Japanese art—for whom it can serve as a primer or an overview—as well as those who feel they’ve seen it all. The expansive collection maintains its foundation of classic works and traditional ceramics, while also introducing newer and different works through temporary exhibitions. The current modern Japanese art exhibition lasts until the end of March 2015 and features gorgeous and innovative works by painters who led the modernization of Japanese painting from the Meiji to Showa periods (1868–1989). Then, on April 3, 2015, Okada Museum will unveil Kitagawa Utamaro’s Fukugawa in the Snow, which had been missing for more than 60 years, and is being exhibited for only the second time since its rediscovery.

Kitagawa Utamaro, Fukagawa in the Snow, Edo period.

With interactive digital displays available in four languages (English, Japanese, Chinese and Korean), as well as a “Children’s Japanese” option for young visitors, the Okada Museum of Art is welcoming to patrons of all ages, perfect for a first date, a family field trip, or just a quick getaway from the city life. It’s an opportunity to deepen your knowledge of the true Japan, through art and nature.

Okada Museum of Art

Address: 250-0406 Kanagawa-ken, Ashigarashimo-gun, Hakone-machi, Kowakudani 493-1
Tel: 0460-87-3931
Opening Hours: daily, 9:00–17:00

The Narukawa Museum of Art: A Natural Masterpiece

By Alec Jordan

Nestled in the low hills beside Hakone’s Lake Ashi, the Narukawa Museum is surrounded by a landscape as stunning as the works that are housed inside. Within the walls of this lakeside museum is a treasure trove of modern nihonga—a traditional form of Japanese-style painting. The museum was opened in 1988 by founder Minoru Narukawa, as a home for his personal collection of these works, which use ingredients and techniques that have been refined for centuries, but whose subject matter belies a distinctly modern sensibility. During our visit to the museum, Mr. Narukawa explained some of the qualities that drew him to begin collecting pieces of this traditional, yet quite modern, art form.


One of the unique characteristics of nihonga is the ingredients used to create the works themselves. The pigments that are used to create the images are made entirely from natural materials—minerals, shells, and even gold or silver—which are ground into a fine powder, and mixed with water in order to be used for painting. The paintings are then created on washi (Japanese paper) or silk. The ingredients used for these paintings are both rare and expensive, making each nihonga a valuable item, even before the artist’s skill is imbued in the picture.

Before the modern era, Narukawa explains, the focus of a nihonga painter was on the quality of the line in painting, or the ability to accurately and aesthetically render a subject—landscape, for example. “But now, with modern pieces of nihonga, it isn’t just about depicting a landscape: it’s important for the artist to show his impression, and display his personal reaction to that landscape.”

Similarly, modern works of nihonga that display human figures are focused on showing the human nature of their subjects. In one case, a series of pieces that depict geisha and maiko (apprentice geisha), still in their white makeup, but partially nude and in relaxed poses, shows another, far less staged, representation of these traditional icons of Japanese beauty.

Some of the museum’s most well known pieces are an expansive collection of works by the celebrated nihonga painter, Kyujin Yamamoto, a recipient of the Japan’s Order of Cultural Merit. However, Narukawa explains that what draws him to the pieces in his collection are never the names, but the feeling that emanates from them: “I feel that the most moving works of art don’t necessarily need to be created by famous artists. For me, when I see a work and I know that the artist put his or her heart and soul into that piece, that is what truly moves me.”

This dedication to nihonga in all its variety has made for an eclectic collection of these meticulously crafted pieces, gathered over decades. Narukawa explained that he “thought it would be most suitable to house these paintings not in something like a concrete cave, but surrounded by nature and providing and taking inspiration from the surroundings. This was the reason that I chose Hakone.”


And it would have been hard to choose a better location. In addition to the art that hangs on the museum walls, one of the most inspiring images that the Narukawa Museum has on offer can be seen from the 50-meter-wide Panorama Lounge (main image, above). On clear days, visitors can look out past Lake Ashi, past the hills and mountains of Hakone, and on the snow-capped peak of Mt. Fuji, framed in a unique manner that reveals and displays Japan’s most celebrated mountain at the same time.

In explaining the appeal of the museum’s most prized “picture,” Narukawa uses a phrase that comes from the world of Japanese gardening—shakkei. Literally, it means “borrowed landscape,” and it refers to the way that natural scenery is used as the background for a garden: “I haven’t seen a museum that uses the landscape the same way that we use ours, and I simply believe that any visitor who comes to Hakone—or Japan for that matter—needs to see it.”

Narukawa Art Museum

Address: 250-0522 Kanagawa-ken
Hakone, Ashigarashimo, Moto Hakone 570
Tel: 0460-83-6828
Opening Hours: daily, 9:00–17:00

The Pola Museum: An Environment for Art

As you stand inside the sleek, ultramodern architecture of the Pola Museum, you feel like you were right in the heart of the city. But in fact, this building’s contemporary design is nestled within the belly of a forested hillside, and offers a unique mix of fine art and natural beauty, all in a light, airy space. (See main picture, above)

The building itself, opened in 2002, is an architectural gem. Designed by the renowned Koichi Yasuda, the Pola Museum features clean, pure lines that provide a contrast with the natural forms of the rural surroundings. Although much of the space is actually underground, it’s difficult to tell: a combination of natural light and advanced fiber optics creates a luminous atmosphere that puts the varied collection of the museum in a perfect light. The building was designed with the concept of being “a symbiosis between Hakone’s natural beauty and the works of art,” and true to this concept, the museum grounds offer a walking course that is open during the warmer months.

Water Lily Pond by Claude Monet

As you make your way around the airy spaces of the Pola Museum’s galleries, you can look on masterpieces of modern and contemporary artists from Europe and Asia—the collection includes nearly 10,000 pieces and ranges from Ming Dynasty vases to surrealist canvases by Salvador Dalí. Highlights of the museum include works by Impressionists Monet and Renoir; paintings, sculptures, and other objects that mark stages in the career of the mercurial creator, Pablo Picasso; and examples of the oeuvre of two artists who may not be as familiar to western audiences: Léonard Foujita and Sugiyama Yasushi. Foujita, who spent much of his life in France and was active during the first part of the 20th century, has a fascinating body of work that moves from Cubist-inspired work to more figurative work. Sugiyama’s pieces, on the other hand, have an almost monumental quality, whether they depict closely observed animals or figures from far-flung lands. The Pola Museum maintains a considerable collection that includes 43 pieces of this intriguing artist’s work.

Léonard Foujita, Dragon of Seas, (Jean Cocteau), 1955, Burin on paper (Second half of the exhibition) © Fondation Foujita / ADAGP, Paris & JASPAR, Tokyo, 2014 D0701

In addition to the museum’s permanent collection, there are a series of temporary exhibitions that highlight specific artists or themes in modern art. Two being shown over the next few months are Artists’ Books by 20th Century Masters—Chagall, Matisse, Miró, Dalí, a look at these visual artists’ experiments with the medium of the printed book as they put their distinct visual styles to work in storytelling and illustration. In addition, keeping with the Pola Company’s origins in the industry of cosmetics, there will be an illuminating exhibit that looks back at lacquerware cosmetic accessories from the Edo Period. These exquisite pieces range from dressing tables to delicately crafted combs and makeup brushes. Both exhibits will run until the end of March 2015.

To take a breather as you make your way around the museum, there are two restaurants that offer two different dining experiences. For a more filling meal, you can go with the restaurant “Array,” which features authentic European fare and massive picture windows that look out on Hakone’s mountainous landscape. For lighter appetites, drop in on the Tune Café and soak in the forested surroundings that offers different views throughout the year.

While Hakone is known as a popular tourist destination, a visit to the Pola Museum of Art provides visitors with an experience that combines natural scenery with modern design, and refined art with the rolling hills and valleys of the region.

Pola Museum of Art

Address: 250-0631 Kanagawa-ken
Ashigarashimo-gun, Hakone-machi Sengokuhara, Kozukayama 1285
Tel: 0460-84-2111
Opening Hours: daily, 9:00–17:00
(no admission after 16:30)

Hakone Open-Air Museum

As a visit to the Hakone Open-Air Museum can show you, art isn’t something that needs to be kept inside. The spacious 70,000 square meter park was opened in 1969, with the intention of creating a space where guests of all ages could explore and experience art in a unique setting throughout the entire year.

The expansive sculpture garden offers surprises around every corner, with pieces that portray both profound philosophical truths and whimsical flights of fancy, executed in a great variety of styles. And always in the background, while you make your way through the many small paths that cross the museum’s outdoor garden, you will find yourself surrounded by Hakone’s hills and mountains, serving as a natural counterpoint to art sculpted by human hands.

One of the Hakone Open-Air Museum’s art/play spaces

Children will be drawn to the museum’s more playful works of art, as well as the pieces that can be found in the children’s area, including a series of Play Sculptures, which invite young visitors to discover just how much fun art can be. The Hakone Open-Air Museum also contains several traditional gallery buildings, which house temporary exhibits and installations that featuring the work of contemporary Japanese artists. There is also the renowned Picasso Collection, which displays a changing set of exhibitions that offer various perspectives into the famed creator’s creative imagination, illustrated by a diverse collection of the artist’s work.

The Hakone Open-Air Museum is a short walk from the Chokoku-no-mori Station on the Hakone Tozan Railway, making it a destination that can be easily reached from Tokyo for a day trip, or part of a longer stay in the area.
Museum Hours: 9:00–17:00, 365 days a year. Last admission is 30 minutes before closing.
Admission: ¥1,600 (adults), ¥1,200 (university & high school students), ¥800 (middle & elementary school students)

The Hakone Open-Air Museum

Address: 250-0493 Kanagawa-ken, Ashigarashimo-gun Hakone-machi, Ninotaira 1121
Tel: 0460-82-1161



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