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Art Fair Tokyo and a Suggested Itinerary in Five Parts

By Becca Voelcker  |  Tokyo, 15 March 2015

With only a matter of days until the opening of Art Fair Tokyo 2015 – shortly followed, it’s forecast, by the first cherry blossoms – what better time to explore the city. Organised into themes and districts, this guide offers a broad scope of contemporary art gallery and event recommendations. Not to mention a few treats in between, including hand-cut soba, vinyl records, and the best coffee in town.

Main events during the fair:

March 19th: First Choice preview of Art Fair Tokyo, 4-6pm.
Opening preview of Art Fair Tokyo, 6-9pm, both by invitiation only.
Tokyo International Forum. B2 Exhibition Hall. Red Bull Music Academy x Rhizomatiks presents Session with Human-sized Synthesizer, 7-7.30pm at Marucube, and The 8th Annual Bacon Prize Award Ceremony, 9-11pm at Peninsula Tokyo, 3F, The Grand Ballroom.
March 20th: Asian Art Forum, supported by ANA - Start up meeting with simultaneous interpretation, 1-2.30pm at Educational Lounge of the fair site. 
March 21st: CAMPARI presents Park Night 2015; Meterorites at Park Hotel Tokyo, ticketed, 8 – 11 pm.
March 22nd: English Art tour at Art Fair Tokyo (Guided by Rasa Tsuda, Ocula. Organised by AIT). 1 – 2.30 pm, booking required.
Art Fair Tokyo 2015 closing party at Konnoh Hachimangu Shrine, Shibuya. 7-9pm.

Day 1: Old and New Buildings

Hop on the Yamanote subway line to orientate yourself in Tokyo, and begin people watching as it takes you through different areas. Get off at Nippori, and wander through Yanaka cemetery and the 'downtown' district to get a feel of old Tokyo. Visit SCAI the Bathhouse for contemporary international art in an old renovated bathhouse. Nearby is Hagiso, a refurbished timber home, once an art university students' share-house, and now a contemporary art gallery and cafe where you might stop for lunch. Also in this old-style district of timber houses and shrines is Ogura-ya, an old pawnbrokers' shop, turned into an arts and crafts gallery. In addition, the owner of SCAI, Mr. Shiraishi opened a space called 'Sakuragi Atari' with a bakery and beer house to preserve and reuse old houses. 

Wander south through Ueno Park, and stop in any of its major galleries and museums, including Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. Also worth checking out is the annual VOCA painting prize for emerging Japanese artists, held at Ueno Mori Museum.

Get back on the Yamanote line and head to Ginza. Ginza's swanky stores include some impressive art spaces (Shiseido, Hermes) that sometimes screen films too. In complete contrast, visit shabby Okuno Building, a housing complex dating back to the 1930s that now contains a warren of little galleries and antique shops. It has a hand cranked elevator and circular windows.

Eat hand-cut soba noodles at understated and tucked-away Sasuga restaurant, which serves its food on ceramics made by an octogenarian artisan from Ibaraki. And then drink coffee in a tiny and smoke-filled Showa-era kissaten (coffee shop), Café de l’Ambre, on one of the streets that Araki has photographed for years. 

If you feel like wandering further, a little way southeast finds you in Tsukiji fish market district, and a stone’s throw away from Wada Fine Arts. Further still, on the reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay, you will find a large arts complex called TOLOT/ heuristic, which houses galleries Hiromi Yoshii, Yuka Tsuruno, and a branch of G/P Gallery. The latter is showing a group photography exhibition based on the idea of sightseeing.

Okuno building (galleries and shops), GinzaDay 2: Walks and Books

Bakurocho area houses Taro Nasu, a commercial gallery specialising in both British and international contemporary art with a conceptual slant (favourites include Ryan Gander, Simon Fujiwara, and recently, Pierre Huyghe). A little north on the metro, in Kuramae, you will find Kurenboh Buddhist temple gallery, which can be visited for free but requires prior booking (it only admits three people at a time, to visit its three curved-wall rooms, opened in 2006 for facilitating 'meditations on art'). Check out the website to see what is currently on: exhibitions are very sporadic.

In contrast, visit nearby Suehirocho district's busy old school building, now turned into a contemporary art complex. 3331 Arts Chiyoda contains galleries and a café, and holds impromptu events including film screenings. Running simultaneously to Tokyo Art Fair, 3331 is also holding its own fair, which aims to support both emerging artists and new collectors. Also in this area is Jikka, a gallery and events space offering emerging artists and curators an arena for testing new ideas.

A little further south, and in between two metro train tracks, lies 3331’s cafe, N3331. It was a station building until 1943, and now takes the form of a glass rectangle in which you can sit and sip coffee while trains snake past on either side. Also in this area is Jimbocho, Tokyo's second-hand bookstore district. Genkido has a wide selection of art books, arranged floor to ceiling, with handwritten notes explaining their contents. Not too far west on the subway, you might visit Mizuma Art Gallery, located beside a canal at Iidabashi.

Alternatively, head southwest on the subway to Shibuya. Watarium Museum of Contemporary Art is currently showing an anthropologically influenced exhibition by Naoki Ishikawa and Yoshitomo Nara, portraying life in Japan’s extreme north. Nearby, Kishio Suga has a small show in Tomio Koyama Gallery, housed inside the Hikarie skyscraper. Suga will also feature in one of Art Fair Tokyo’s Featured Programmes, ‘Twentieth-Century Mono-ha.’ North of Shibuya, in Harajuku, Blum and Poe is showing photo-collages by Jenny Slinger, which could almost have been pulled from the pages of a gothic romance.

Meanwhile, a little south of Shibuya is the Ebisu area, in which you could continue this morning’s book theme, beginning at Post bookshop and gallery, which showcases just one publisher’s work at a time. Galleries including Taka Ishii and Gagosian collaborated with Post to show their books in their spaces. In addition, they hosted exhibitions with photographers such as Takashi Homma, in the gallery space at the back of the bookshop. A short walk away, Nadiff bookshop, G/P Gallery, and MEM Gallery share a building next to a little river. They have excellent photography books, and varied solo shows. The Ebisu area is strong for photography and photography books, with Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography just a stone's throw away (though currently closed for renovations). A little further along the same river, Aoyama Meguro gallery and Shirokane art complex are worth a visit too (the complex houses Yamamoto Gendai, Arataniurano, and Kodama Gallery).

A short walk north brings you to Daikanyama's upmarket boutiques and a branch of the bookshop Tsutaya (known to locals as T-site), located in an award winning building that also includes a stationery and music store. Sip on a glass of wine in its upstairs bar, surrounded by journals and art books. Finally head to Sora no Niwa tofu restaurant in Ebisu, for its chic Japanese food and modern interior. Just a street away is Bar Martha, a handsome jazz bar with hundreds of vinyl records and an extensive menu of Japanese whisky.

Tsutaya T-site (bookshop and bar), DaikanyamaDay 3: Near the Bay

Begin in the east at Kyosumi shirakawa, where you'll find a well established but soon winding-down arts complex housed in a warehouse. Take the goods-lift up to Tomio Koyama, Shugo Art, and Taka Ishii galleries. Stepping back outside, wander through Kyosumi's historical gardens, en route to the Museum of Contemporary Art, where Kishio Suga and Gabriel Orozco are currently on show. Its permanent collection is worth a look too. If you can bear the wait, queue at Blue Bottle Coffee for the most fashionable drip coffee in town.

Also nearby and worth checking out online on the day is SNAC, a venue used by artists represented by Mujin-to Production (including Chim↑Pom, and Yoko Asakai). During Tokyo Art Fair weekend, an expanded dance performance will be held in the form of a walking tour through Kyosumi district.

In the same spirit as with SNAC, check out AIT and Shibaura House's websites for a last minute talk or event to tempt you a little south to Tamachi. Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA architects (21st Century Museum in Kanazawa, New York’s New Museum) designed Shibaura House community workspace, a glass-sided modernist structure. AIT projects sometimes use it for talks, screenings, and in conjunction with their residencies. During the Tokyo Art Fair weekend, AIT will conduct tours of the fair in both English and Japanese, at Tokyo International Forum.

Day 4: Designer Modernity

Falling inside the Roppongi art triangle, a space dominated by the Mori Art Museum, Suntory Museum, and the National Art Center, Roppongi has several smaller and arguably more interesting venues worth seeing. Many galleries have relocated here in recent years. In the Pyramide building, see Wako Works of Art (representing Wolfgang Tillmans, Luc Tuymans, Fiona Tan), and Ota Fine Arts. On the 19th March, a solo show by Amsterdam photographer Ed van der Elsken will open at Taka Ishii's Roppongi branch in the AXIS building nearby. Also see Hiromi Yoshii’s Roppongi branch, and in the same building of shops and offices, IMA concept store's photographic book collection.

Next, admire Tadao Ando's sleek architecture at 2121 Design Site (a design gallery hosting collaborative events and a bookshop). For an older but just as sleek building, visit the nearby International House of Japan (which also has a Japanese garden).

Southwest of this area, you will find many second-hand and antique furniture shops around Meguro, as well as Claska Hotel. Enjoy a stylish drink or meal in Claska’s understated glass-fronted lobby, rent one of its Tokyo Bikes, or better still, stay a night in one of its twenty-one unique rooms. Contemporary Japanese designers are responsible for the rooms’ various styles, which often play on traditional interior architecture and incorporate young Japanese artists’ work. Claska also houses arts events, a gallery, studios, and a design shop. 

Scai the Bathhouse (gallery), NipporiDay 5: Further Afield

Heading south for a day trip about an hour by train from Tokyo, and within views of Mount Fuji (in Shizuoka prefecture), visit Clematis no Oka, a complex of three galleries and gardens. It includes Izu photography museum, and Vangi sculpture museum that is currently featuring a solo show by Kishio Suga until March 24th. The architecture is contemporary and sleek, and the restaurants are part of the 'slow food' movement. What with this, and some early spring blossom, any weariness from the city will surely fade away.

Likewise, for a one-night escape north from the city, travel to Tochigi prefecture, about an hour into the mountains beyond Tokyo. Here you will find yourself surrounded by forest at Daikokuya Itamuro ryokan and onsen. Its aim is to provide space for enjoying modern art in a meditative atmosphere. Daikokuya’s collection includes hundreds of Kishio Suga pieces; it holds monthly ceramic exhibitions, and an annual contemporary artist open-call. Enjoy its onsen (thermal baths) and exquisite food. Each room has individually designed furniture and artwork, and the food is brought there, on handmade tableware from around Japan.—[O]

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