Museums in Japan

Okada Museum of Art

Interview with Professor Kobayashi Tadashi

Exterior of Okada Museum of Art.
Exterior of Okada Museum of Art.

Hakone—one of Japan’s most famous hot spring resorts—is a popular museum town. The city is now joined by the much-anticipated Okada Museum of Art from October last year. Okada Museum houses fine examples of Japanese, Korean and Chinese art collected by the businessman Okada Kazuo over more than a decade. The museum’s first director, Professor Kobayashi Tadashi, is emeritus professor of Gakushuin University and a board member of the Sainsbury Institute. The institute’s Executive Director, Mizutori Mami, visits Professor Kobayashi to see and hear more about the newly established museum.

Mizutori Mami (MM): What qualities set Okada Museum of Art apart from others?
Kobayashi Tadashi (KT): Museums in major cities have their own benefits: proximity to urban lifestyle offers people the ease and spontaneity to access art. One could readily drop in to a museum between meetings or even after work. In comparison, the newly established Okada Museum located an hour away from Tokyo in the tourist town of Hakone is a destination requiring intent. Because our visitors come specially to see the museum, they are able to enjoy the experience and the collection in an environment separate from their daily lives. Most of the works in the museum share Japanese provenance: some are objects made in Japan and others, while produced in China or Korea, were imported into Japan at some point before Okada’s acquisition. The most pronounced character of the museum, therefore, is that the entire collection except for only a few pieces was bought overseas but the entire collection was developed in Japan.

Interior view of Okada Museum of Art.
Interior view of Okada Museum of Art.

MM: What inspired Okada to create a museum after decades of art collecting?
KT: Okada collected knowing he wanted to create a museum one day. His passion stems from his desire to properly conserve, display and enjoy works of art that were from or found its way into Japan in his home country. Furthermore, he hoped to create a space in Hakone for its community and visitors alike to appreciate the beauty of art, and to cultivate the next generation of art enthusiasts. Perhaps his ambitions were his response to a Japan—once upon a time so enamoured by Western art—that neglected to fully value and safeguard art of its own kind. The museum conveys Okada’s hope to re-address this notion and to provide the public a space to contemplate the significance and grant the merit Japanese and East Asian art deserves. This aspiration extends to those who travelled from abroad; Okada situated the museum in Hakone, which attracts a large number of international visitors, to inspire a wider audience through the display of Japanese, Korean and Chinese art. To accommodate this wish, information about the objects are available in Japanese, Korean, Chinese and English. For the younger audience, touch screen interactive panels specially designed for children are placed in front of key objects.

Ogata Kōrin, Ducks and Snow-Covered Pine Trees (detail), Edo period © Okada Museum of Art
Ogata Kōrin, Ducks and Snow-Covered Pine Trees (detail), Edo period © Okada Museum of Art

MM: What is your ambition as the first director?
KT: Over the course of my career, I worked with a number of national museums (Tokyo National Museum) and public art museums (Chiba City Museum of Art) to help with its operations and deliver exhibitions alongside my teaching duties at Gakushuin University. I hope to utilize some of my past experiences to provide visitors to Okada Museum with warm hospitality and a unique experience that only private art museums are able to afford. For instance, the pristine natural surrounding that forms part of the museum invites visitors a chance to enjoy the changing seasons through a stroll along its gardens and streams. The restaurant, once opened, will enhance the visit by being able to provide feasts for both the eyes and stomach using locally sourced food. I hope to nurture a museum that many come in search of holistic soul therapy through the enjoyment of art, nature and food.

MM: I found that one of the beauties of Okada Museum is how one could experience art from Japan and nearby regions in a comprehensive historical manner, much in the same way possible by a visit to major museums, for example, the Tokyo National Museum.
KT: It is indeed possible to get an overall experience of artistic narratives of Japan and Asia if one were to visit the Tokyo National Museum and invest time in exploring every room of the Japanese Gallery (Honkan), Asian Gallery (Toyokan), and Heiseikan. But to accomplish this will take at least a few days or so. In comparison, Okada Museum has on display outstanding body of works representing key characteristics of each cultural period beginning with the ancient to the contemporary. This systematic manner allows an in-depth overview even to those with half a day’s time at the museum. This sweeping experience, I believe, is quite unique in Japanese museums. This is made possible thanks to Okada collecting with the clear intent of creating a museum and sets us apart from other museums housing personal collections. Okada Museum’s collection has its personal charm as well. Looking at Japanese paintings for example, the number of classical Japanese paintings is limited, however, the museum houses a large collection of paintings from Momoyama period (1573-1615) onwards. These include gold leaf folding screens by Kano and Hasegawa Schools, ukiyo-e by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806), coloured paintings and ink paintings by Ito Jakuchu (1716-1800), and paintings by contemporary masters such as Higashiyama Kaii (1908-1999). Together the collection provides a complete narrative of Japanese painting tradition and history from Muromachi period through to the present day.

L: Woman with Jar on Her Head and Women with Cups, Kofun period. R: Dish with Water Birds and Lotus Pond Design, Yuan dynasty © Okada Museum of Art
L: Woman with Jar on Her Head and Women with Cups, Kofun period.
R: Dish with Water Birds and Lotus Pond Design, Yuan dynasty
© Okada Museum of Art

MM: What are your exhibition plans?
KT: In addition to our permanent display, we are aiming to hold special themed exhibitions every three months. Our upcoming exhibition starting in January and running until March is on ‘Mount Fuji and the Rising Sun’, a popular imagery of Japan. Then in March, to coincide with the festival of plums (momo no sekku), an exhibition featuring hina dolls and kaiawase, or shell-matching game, popular when celebrating Girls’ Festival will be shown. Furthermore, from this January, we will include a new section in our permanent display which features several shunga works. Some of the readers of this e-magazine may have had the opportunity to visit the exhibition at the British Museum Shunga: Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art which showed many masterpieces of this genre.

MM: Are visitors able to see you at Okada Museum?
KT: We host Director’s Gallery Talk once a month in addition to Director’s Lectures held once every three months. The next Director’s Lecture, to be held in March, will be on ‘Mt Fuji by Yokoyama Taikan’. There is also a weekly gallery talk given by our curators. Information on these talks and events are available on our website in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean. Okada Museum of Art is open everyday except for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to welcome visitors from Japan and abroad. We very much look forward to your visit.

Mizutori Mami
Executive Director, Sainsbury Institute

Okada Museum of Art

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