The Best Public Art Installations to See in Tokyo

Tokyo is an amazing city. Each neighborhood has a unique and different feeling. And there is definitely no shortage of new places to explore. You could spend years trying to see it all and not manage half of it. 

This is especially true when it relates to the public art of Tokyo. In this city, public art installations can be found both in plain sight and where you least expect them. They reinforce a sense of adventure and exploration, even for long-time Japan residents.

Maman

Not all art installations are necessarily hidden. It is possible you have already come across a few of them on your way to work or while you were shopping. Maman, the large bronze spider that overlooks the entrance of Mori Tower in Roppongi, is a good example. Standing more than 9 meters tall, this piece by Louise Bourgeois is a normal sight for people passing through Roppongi Hills. 

A bronze casting of the original stainless steel sculpture in London, it is a tribute to the artist’s mother. Bourgeois stated, “Like a spider, my mother was a weaver. My family was in the business of tapestry restoration, and my mother was in charge of the workshop.” The long legs of this work stand out from the background of the surrounding shops and movie theater, and it is worth taking a closer look at.

Metamorphosis Garden

Like Roppongi Hills, Ginza Six is another popular shopping destination that houses fascinating public art. The luxury shopping complex provides access to high fashion brands, but they are accompanied by a continuously changing art piece suspended in mid-air in the central atrium. Various contemporary art works are rotated in periodically and they breathe new life into the interior of the building. 

The most recent art installation is Metamorphosis Garden, by Kohei Nawa. The sculptures of islands, droplets and a deer represent the themes of life, matter and ambiguity. It’s art such as this that makes a normal experience, like walking through a department store feel special and a bit otherworldly.

Metamorphosis Garden © Kohei Nawa | Sandwich Inc.

Work 2012

While some works of art take you to fantasy worlds, others can bring you back to reality. Located in Tennōzu Isle, Kimiyo Mishima’s Work 2012 is a piece that stands out for this quality.

At first glance, it may seem like just a large trash can, but it is actually a carefully crafted sculpture. The realistic details of brands such as Coca Cola and Asahi inspire reflection on modern day consumption habits. None of the “trash” inside is actually real garbage, though. Each part is created with ceramics that are then silkscreened to give it a realistic aesthetic. The attention to detail makes this a must see.

©Photo by Nick West

Universe of Fire Particles Falling from the Sky

Another fun spot to enjoy public art is in Toyosu with teamLab’s Universe of Fire Particles Falling from the Sky. This tall, pillar-like work is situated outside the teamLab Planets TOKYO museum, but offers access to anyone interested. 

The pillar is illuminated by flames that are constantly shifting and changing. By standing on the area around the pillar, you create a black presence that ultimately changes the pattern. You can also use the teamLab FIRE app on your smartphone while you approach the work to ignite the flame on your phone, giving you your own personal art to take home with you. Additionally, by bringing your flame close to another user’s app, you can ignite their flame. This can go on and on while you track the flame you started on the in-app map function.

Cloud

For a simple yet beautiful work, head over to Kasumigaseki. A piece that you can find there, simply called Cloud and created by Leandro Erlich, imparts a magical feeling to the surrounding business district aesthetic. 

Composed of layered glass stained with ceramic ink, the piece recreates the visual impression of a cloud and catches it in a box for everyone to see. While it looks great during the day, also try visiting during the night when it is illuminated by LED lights.

©Photo by Taisuke Ogawa

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