Shirakawa-koen: A work of art

By Iain Maloney

I find attending art exhibitions in Japan to be a frustrating experience. The prices are often extortionate, the pieces badly displayed, and the visitors herded through like cattle on their way to an abattoir. Exhibitions of work by artists like Monet, Dali, Van Gogh, et al, are focused solely on getting us in front of the most famous works, then moving us on again as quickly as possible, preferably to the gift shop.

When I go to an exhibition, I like to move at my own speed, to look at what catches my eye. To examine it up close and then to step back and quite literally see the bigger picture. If I don’t know the artist, I like to get an overall feel for their work, wandering back and forth between different works, different periods. If it’s someone more famous, I like to see lesser known pieces, learn more about them. Few galleries allow visitors such freedom.

Which is why I love the Nagoya City Art Museum. These people really know what they’re doing. The permanent collection is a joy; pleasingly displayed, each piece presented to give it the best possible chance to shine, to show itself, to speak to you. There are some difficult works here but unlike other galleries, where the challenging pieces are often pushed together, as if there were safety in numbers, each work is allowed to confront the viewer, to challenge, as they were meant to do.

The regularly changing exhibitions are always worth the still undoubtedly high ticket price. The current “Expressionist Movements in Japan” show is a perfect example: as an educational exhibition, showcasing and explaining a movement, or rather a tangle of ideas, ideologies, directions and cul-de-sacs, it takes you on a journey from beginnings in Japanese impressionism through all the various forms of expressionism, the works, the pamphlets, the buildings and leaves you having been exposed to works of immense beauty and ideas of great insight. Exhibitions should appeal to both emotion and ration, the heart and the head, and it’s a balance this gallery consistently gets right.

A large part of the gallery’s success is down to the building which, unlike the Nagoya Boston Art Museum for example, has been designed to allow for the utmost flexibility, with space and light in abundance and a sensible layout disposing of the need for hundreds of arrows and unnecessary doubling back on yourself.

The gallery stands in Shirakawa-koen, a short walk south from Fushimi subway station. The park itself is an ideal spot to spend a relaxing afternoon. On dry days, you can always find people resting under wide trees on the perimeter or playing sport in the center. It’s a great place in the heart of the city for both barbecues and football.

On the northern edge of the park is the Nagoya City Science Museum. Split into three buildings – Life Science, Science & Technology and Astronomy – this huge museum is ideal whether you have kids or just a healthy interest in the world around you. Each floor focuses on a particular application of science, from clothing to space travel, and include many hands-on exhibits. Demonstrations and child-orientated tours are often available.

The Astronomy building houses a 450-seat planetarium, which features a projection of the Nagoya night sky with points of interest highlighted and explained. Stargazing from the comfort of a reclining armchair. Each day the show is slightly different, changing as the world turns, guaranteeing that repeat visits will not be repetitive.

Shirakawa-koen is the place to go in Nagoya if you want to relax, hang out with friends, throw the Frisbee around, increase your knowledge of the universe around you or expose yourself to the best the art world has to offer. There’s also some pretty good shopping and bars nearby. What more could you ask for?

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Museums in Japan are so expensive because they have so little to rely on in the way of private funding--no billionaire donors or private foundations (when such exist, their money often goes to private, "vanity" museums or corporate collections) to pony up every year and fill the gap between sparse public grants and the income from admissions. The tax system lacks the mechanisms to encourage large-scale private giving, which stifles attempts to raise money from individuals and corporate groups, even for government-funded facilities...

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Shirakawa Park was filled with homeless people until just before the Aichi Expo. Big flatbed trucks came in, and all the homeless people and their possesions were promptly carted out.

Tsurumai Park and Meijo Park are much better.

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I like the fact that Japanese museums invite the best collections from everywhere around the world but usually the museums in Tokyo are very crowded and I cannot enjoy watching a picture without some space and solitude. In a Tokyo museum I have to fight even to get a glimpse of the picture, there are always some very pushy people without manners who always try to step on your feet and stand exactly in front of you. People should learn that a museum is not a train station where you fight for a place on the train but a place for viewing art.

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Shirakawa-koen is the place to go in Nagoya if you want to relax, hang out with friends, throw the Frisbee around, increase your knowledge of the universe around you or expose yourself to the best the art world has to offer. There’s also some pretty good shopping and bars nearby. What more could you ask for?

Playing Frisbee and viewing art - what else could you ask for? My dear Iain Maloney, have you written this article ending after a visit to a bar in Shirakawa koen?

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Going to big shows here actually sucks. Stupid flag waving idiots with a stop watch. People are so rude. They stand in front of you even though they see you are looking at the piece. I refuse to go. Have not been to a museum here in 20 years now. Probably worse now then back then.

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It is admirable that sometimes Jt publishes articles about museums and books, not only about talenteless talentos in different degrees of nudity. The author is definitely an admirer of art.

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I like the museums in Japan I have visited. Admittedly I don't go all that often, but when I do it's been quite pleasant and comparably priced with other world museums.

Perhaps I've been lucky?

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Expressionist Movements in Japan: The exhibition design didn't originate from the Shirakawa-koen museum, it is a touring exhibition stopping at several Japanese museums, including Hyogo, Tokyo, Tochigi and Nagoya.

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Can we buy art in Shirakawa koen?

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