Guide to the Hakone Open Air Museum
The Hakone Open Air Museum is located in the heart of the Japanese countryside. Nestled in between the green hills and valleys of Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Most people who travel to the Hakone region come for the views and the onsens, not the art, I highly recommend making a stop here, trust me, you won't regret it!
If you got the Hakone Free Pass, travel on the Tozan Railway from Hakone-Yumoto station will be free. If you chose not to get the pass the journey will cost 400 yen ($4 USD). It takes about 30 minutes from Hakone-Yumoto to get to Chokoku No Mori station. Be sure to get a window seat for the journey since the trip is one of the most scenic rides you can have in Japan.
If you are travelling by car, the museum has a large parking lot where you can leave your car while visiting the museum. Googlemaps is a great resource for making your journey but it will end with driving down the prefectural road 723 where you'll find the museum.
If you're coming from somewhere in Hakone not near any of the big train stations, you can take one of the many buses over to the museum. Take the Izu-Hakone Bus to the Ninotaira Iriguchi bus stop. From here it is only a 5-minute walk to the museum.
Hours and Costs
The museum is open 9:00 to 17:00, 365 days a year! Admission is 1600 yen (USD 16) or 1400 yen (USD 14) with the Hakone Free Pass. If you know when you wanted to visit you can also buy your ticket online in advance where you'll save 100 yen off the full price but these can only be purchased within Japan.
There are a few dozen lockers outside the museum where you can stash your bags if you have any. We had a few heavy knapsacks with us since we hadn't checked in at our hotel when we arrived at the museum and storing them here would have been a great way to explore the museum unencumbered. Lockers cost 400 yen and only accept coins.
The museum was first opened in 1966 with the intention to create a space where there could be a "dialogue between nature and art". The park is over 70,000 square meters with over 120 works scattered throughout from Japanese artists as well as international superstars. The pieces in the gardens are select sculptures from the 19th and 20th century.
After you pay your admission, you'll descend an escalator into the central area of the park. The moment you step off the escalator you'll see the hillside appear in front of you marked with almost magical looking sculptures.
One of the first pieces you'll see when you descend is Hercules, the Archer by Emile-Antoine Bourdelle. Emile-Antoine Bourdelle worked as an assistant in Rodin's studio. While so much of their styles are similar, the differences are also stark. Rodin followed a strict analytical modelling technique whereas Bourdelle wanted to modernise sculpture from it's original Greek and Roman influences. The energy in this piece is so dynamic. The archer's arm is taut, and his muscle flexed as he pulls at an invisible bowstring.
Turning left from the Bourdelle, you'll come up the fantastical pool of water where an enormous stone head lies. This is La Pleureuse by Francois-Xavier and Claude Lalanne. It was sculpted in 1986 using a huge piece of Italian trani stone. La Pleureuse means "the mourner". She lies in the water, bright green leaves sprouting from her hair. Get up close to the statue where you can see a teardrop descending from her cheek into the waters below. She is entirely captivating, and her green hair against the cherry blossoms blooming behind her was a perfect composition.
Behind Le Pleureuse is one of the famous Sky Holes by Bukichi Inoue. Inoue has several pieces throughout the gardens. Each one allows the user to explore their surroundings from a different perspective. In this piece near the front, the viewer climbs through this tiny doorway into a black box and walks down the stairs, into the earth itself. Once down in the depths of the box, there is a small viewing window in the darkness which allows the light to come through and where you can look outside.
After making your way out of the Sky Hole, walk over to the large open square where a tall column reaches up to the sky. Atop the white column is a black sculpture of a man seemingly leaping off a horse. This is Man and Pegasus by Carl Milles. Milles was a Swedish artist who loved to create daring works which integrated themselves into their environment. In this piece, the Pegasus appears to be falling, and from the height of the column, the fall is far more perilous. The man leaps off the back of the horse, only the toes of his foot still touching the Pegasus. He seems to fly forward, defying the laws of gravity. Placed against the dark forest backdrop the man appears to indeed, fly into the clouds.
Walking down the ramp behind the Milles statue, we come up the giant gemstone installation by Peter Pearce, Curved Space-Diamond Structure. There are signs all over the piece asking children to remove their shoes and that only kids are allowed to play inside. That's right; if you have any little ones with you they are more than just allowed to touch the piece, they are allowed to climb up inside of it and explore!
While adults aren't allowed to go inside, you can still explore all the different sides of the piece from every angle. Every so often catching a glimpse of a brightly coloured sweater or dress passing by. The structure itself was based on the shape of a diamond molecule enlarged 8 billion times. Pearce was always fascinated with natural geometries as well as “High-Performance Design”. Both of these themes in perfect harmony with the concept of the gallery.
The Space-Diamond is where you can also find one of the only vending machines in the park. Selling hot tea and juice, it's the perfect thing to grab to either warm up or cool down for the remainder of your journey.
Walk down the stairs from the Space-Diamond and you'll come to a rope bridge which crosses a small pond. On either side of the pond are lushes forests which seem like artworks onto themselves.
Nestled into the corner to the right of the bridge are several bronze statues by Francesco Messina, Yuki Shintani and Carl Milles. These works of art are all of the people and from afar look like little nymphs hiding amongst the trees.
To the left of the bridge is Floating Sculpture 3 by Marta Pan. The floating sculptures are painted the same vermillion colours as Tori gates in Japan. The designs move and sway in the water. Pan was inspired by dancers and their balanced movements when creating this works. In the water swim, dozens of koi fishes, dancing along with the movement of the kinetic sculptures.
Exiting the pond, you walk up a gentle incline, gated by another My Sky Hole by Bukichi Inoue. This one is a giant glass sphere held up by four thin concrete columns. Craning your head upwards towards the sphere, you can see the world reflected back at you.
Walk north towards the garden of stars and be sure to pass by the Eva by Francesco Messina. Messina, an Italian sculpture born in 1900, is one of the most critical figurative sculptors of the 20th century. He pieces are a representations of the "ideal woman", unattainable in life, captured only in his art.
Further up the hill, you come upon the Garden of Stars. The Garden of Stars is a giant maze, in the shape of multiple inlaid stars. From afar it looks like nothing more than a flower bed, but on closer inspection, you can see that space between the green grass and flowers is a deep recess in the ground where you can explore. Adults can wind their way through the maze, taking time to literally stop and smell the roses.
Surrounding the maze are a group of statutes by Yoshitatsu Yanagihara. Yoshitatsu Yanagihara was a Japanese sculptor born in 1910. Her work centres around the "spirit of humanistic inquiry into the essence of nature and life", another good fit for the theme of the museum.
To the left of the Garden of Stars, you descend slightly towards Personnage by Joan Miró. Miró was a Spanish artist and one of the most well known Surrealist sculptors. His work in Personnage explores the idea of art created from poetry. The different shapes and colours plastered onto the forms are to him like words which together create a beautiful poem.
Behind the Miro is the what looks like a meticulous stack of piled wood. Fittingly enough, this piece is called Woods of Net created by Tezuka Architects. This is one of the only parts in the museum which was created by an architectural team instead of an artist. But without knowing that you can't tell the difference as this piece is overwhelmingly beautiful and transcendent. The structure is made of only strips of timber, without the use of ANY metal! 320 cubic meters of wood was used to create the structure, and there are over 500 different kinds of wood used. The technique for the joints inside the pavilion was derived from thousand-year-old Japanese wooden temple designs. When you step inside the smell of freshly cut wood still permeates the air.
The pavilion was created specifically to hold the works of Canadian artist Toshoiko Horiuchi MacAdam. As soon as you walk through the open gateway, you see the brightly coloured wonder that is Knitted Wonder Space 2. Horiuchi MacAdam went about hand knitting each piece which hang from the ceiling. Horiuchi MacAdam was inspired by the works of Antoni Gaudi who also loved incorporating nature's undulated and curving forms, instead of straight lines and rigid geometry, in his artwork.
The piece itself took over 650kg of braided nylon, three months of time to dye, and over a year spent crocheting the textile into nets. The net is meant to symbolise the cradle of a womb. The net rocks and floats in the air much like a baby would be carried inside the mother before it is born. Children under a certain weight and age are allowed to crawl throughout the entire net. The net captures the slightest movement of the child and transmits it back to him, like a wave. The more children play inside, the more waves you have, connecting the children in these undulating waves. Maybe one day she will create something stable enough for adults since even the oldest among us yearn to be a child once more.
Up the hill from the Wood of Nets, is a sculpture by Ossip Zadkine, Van Gogh Marchant à Travers Champs. One of Vincent Van Gogh paintings inspired the statue, subsequently destroyed during WWII, of the famous artist with his painting equipment, walking through the countryside in France. Van Gogh spent much of his painting career dedicated to portraying the French landscape around him. It is a lovely tribute for Van Gogh, eternally walking in the outdoors he loved so much.
Across the bridge, at the very top of the art gallery space is an enormous building with the words, "Picasso" written across the front. Inside this oblong pavilion are over 300 paintings, photographs, ceramics and more created by this legendary artist. Each one was donated to the museum by the artist's daughter and provides an intimate look into the artist life outside his most prolific works of art. My favourite was the stained glass windows he created using a technique called gemmail. Gemmail is formed by fusing layers of coloured glass fragments to create a three-dimensional image. I've never seen this kind of stained glass before and it was absolutely stunning.
Outside the Pavillion is a giant sculpture by Leger, Le Fleur qui Marche. Leger made himself a household name during the cubist period with his inventive and imaginative paintings. After WWII, he began to explore ceramics and art for public squares. Walking Flowers explores the ideas of nature and the human spirit combining into one anthropomorphic form.
Walking east from the pavilion, you walk through a few small landscapes areas of the garden which feature some small pieces of art, but the focus here is more on the beauty of the natural environment.
At the back of the grounds is a modernist cafe where you can buy treats and drinks. They often have some seasonal flavours, but prices are pretty steep as can be expected for gallery cafes. There is also a small souvenir shop in here where you can purchase different items to commemorate your trip.
Across from the cafe is the most iconic structure in the museum, Symphonic Sculpture by Gabriel Loire. This 18-meter tall circular steel tower is surrounded by brightly coloured stained glass. Once you enter the tower, you ascend the up a narrow set of winding stairs towards a lookout.
As you walk up the stairs, take your time to study the incredible glasswork which surrounds you. The stained glass created by Loire is called "slab glass" because it is much thicker than the glass developed in the medieval era. The use of opaque glass allows for deeper colours especially when illuminated by bright sunlight. Loire was an impressionist and used glass like Van Gogh used paints to depict the Starry Night, or Monet did with Water Lilies.
From the top of the tower is an incredible view of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. In the springtime, you can see brightly coloured cherry blossoms colouring the treetops, and in the autumn a blanket of reds and golds cover the skyline like a warm glow.
Down a small pathway from the tower are the footbaths. These footbaths are filled with warm water from the hot springs. Here you can sit on the edge of a long bench and dip your tired feet into the water. Press them up and down on the stones beneath to help give yourself a bit of a massage. If you didn't bring a towel and need to dry off, you can always buy a small souvenir towel from the attendant for only 100 yen.
As you make your way back to the front of the museum, you'll pass several figures by Henry Moore. The first is Reclining Figure. Henry Moore found himself possessed by two themes throughout his work; the Mother and Child and the Reclining Figure. For Moore, the reclining figure symbolised womanhood, life, survival and endurance.
One of the more amusing pieces is Close by Anthony Gormley. A naked bronze cast of a human spread eagle is embedded into the ground. The grass grows up around the piece, and it looks like someone has just leapt off a roof and landed on the ground below. Gormley says that his work is, "an attempt to materialise the place at the other side of appearance where we all live."
Miss Black Power by Niki de Saint Phalle is visible through the trees from many areas of the park, this is because she is so brightly painted and enormous in size. Miss Black Power is an extension of Phalle's significant themes in her work; the role of women in society and social change.
Mother and Child: Block Seat, once more by Henry Moore, brings to life his modern reinvention of the everlasting image of the Madonna and Child.
The Hand of God by Carl Milles was one of the last works this incredible artist ever created. Looking up into the forest we can see an enormous human hand balancing a naked human form on his thumb and forefinger. The standing man looks to be gazing up at the sky like he is watching or listening to something far off into the distance. The is something about this piece being so closely connected to the artists death which makes it all the more poignant.
Grande Racconto by Giuliano Vangi depicts one man's journey into the future. He is represented twice on the piece. On one side you see him, overcome with anxiety. As you walk around the sculpture, you begin to see trees take shape out of the stone. On the opposite side, you can see the same man, bursting forth into the future, free of fear and ready to face a new day. Perhaps with a better connection to the natural world and the peace that can be found there you are better able to face the realities of the human world.
This south side of the garden features more interpretive and modern looking sculptures. Intersecting Space Construction by Ryoji Goto is made up of hundreds of tiny human figures. Each one in a leaping position, connected to the ones above, below and on either side. The sculpture is meant to symbolise the beauty which is made through the human connection.
Sphere Within Sphere by Arnaldo Pomodoro is one of the more famous designs in the gallery. There are other spheres he made in multiple locations all over the world. From afar it looks like a golden orb with cracks, but as you come closer, you can see that the cracks reveal layers of other spheres inside. Like a Russian nesting doll. A world inside a world inside a world. A commentary perhaps on the introspective nature of humans themselves.
Sixteen Turning Sticks by Takamichi Ito is a piece that relies on movement and which encapsulated your attention. In a sea of silence, this one draws your eye in immediately. Inspired by a window display he created in 1960 when he was just a designer, Ito said, "When I decorated the show window with a mobile that danced in the wind, many people stopped to look...People gathered in front of the window, both adults and children, genuinely enjoying the movements of the mobile. After that, I was invited to try and create works in the art world too, and after participating in an exhibition of outdoor sculptures and winning a prize, I became active not only in design but also in the pure art world."
High in the sky, spins a bright vermillion coloured abstracted bird. This is Never-Ending Dialogue by Susumu Shingu. Shingu's sculptures are kinetic works of geometry which move with the wind and transform from simple shapes into a moving performance.
Balzac by Auguste Rodin is one of the last figures to see before making your way to the exit. Rodin is one of the most astounding sculptors of his generation or any generation. Balzac was created as a memorial to the French novelist Honoré Balzac. When the statue was first unveiled, people were horrified. It not only looked nothing like the writer but had a ghastly expression. Rodin didn't want it to be a faithful representation of the man himself, so many others had already done that. He wanted it to be an expression of the writer's persona and the deep and sometimes.
When you are ready to leave, head towards the exit where you'll be head up another escalator leading to the gift shop. There are lots of cute gifts reflecting many of the artists and objects seen inside, but to me, there is something far more interesting just opposite the Gift Shop.
Japan does love their Gachapon machines. If you've never seen or heard of one, Gachapon is capsule toy machines dispensing random items from a given set. They all cost different amounts, and you'll often find unique ones in places like this. Here you have 12 machines each dedicated to art history. Some dispense buttons with images of the various artworks from the museum on them, other have a famous painting on a coasters or even tiny piece of framed art! My kind of souvenir and something you'd never find outside of a Japan!
I will be the first one to admit that modern art has never been my favourite thing. But here in this incredibly serene and astonishing environment, the works of art took on a new life. I was better able to appreciate their beauty and understand the stories they were telling. They seemed to speak to me here, under the cherry blossoms and among the tree. Don't miss it on your next visit to Hakone!