Hakone’s Open-Air Museum

By Donnie | Articles

The Open-Air Museum

Hakone, Japan 2011

This is place! The Open Air Museum in Hakone, Japan. My new favorite museum, but then again I guess I haven't really been to so many.

I enjoyed every single thing about my trip to Hakone (except for losing my camera’s memory card, but I found it so, no harm, no foul). The two main things that really stand out in mind, though, are staying at an authentic ryokan for the first time and visiting the Open Air Museum. I told you all about my ryokan experience, and hopefully you could get an idea of just how awesome it was.

Now, let’s talk about something else that was awesome…the Open-Air Museum, one of the other excursions during my short stay in Hakone.

Let’s kick things off with the name first. These frightful looking kanji…彫刻の森美術館 in hiragana are ちょうこくのもりびじゅつかん or Choukokunomori bijutsukan. Here are a few Japanese words for today. “Choukoku,” 彫刻, means sculpture in Japanese, “No,” の,is like a possessive word (like ” ‘s”), Mori, 森 means forest, and Bijutsukan, 美術館, is Japanese for museum. So when you put it all together, it translates (if I’m not mistaken) to mean Sculptures of the Forest Museum. It sounds so much cooler than the “Open-Air Museum,” but we’ll let it ride for today, ne?

The Open-Air Museum was a really cool experience to say the least. I am not the biggest art fan to be honest. You could show me a series of famous paintings and I probably couldn’t tell you who painted a single one of them (unless it’s an extremely famous piece that everybody knows). I can’t sit with you and discuss the nuances of fine art, but I can tell that the Open Air Museum was one of the most unique that I’ve ever been to.

Just What Is So Unique About the Open-Air Museum?

It was strange as hell. I don’t really know any other way to say it, the Open Air Museum was downright weird. Of course the fact that many of the exhibits were outside was something quite novel, but much of the artwork that I saw wasn’t like your classical type of art. It wasn’t that majestic, Renaissance-type of art that stops you in your tracks. Though I have never seen it, I hear the fresco* that Michaelangelo painstakingly painted onto the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel has that kind of effect. This art was more abstract, more strange the kind that taunts your brain a bit. It makes you tilt your neck to the left, then to the right, scratch your head and say “Huh?”
*fresco-water-based pigments of freshly applied plaster. I just learned that.

The Open-Air Museum was perfect for me, because I didn’t feel like I had to be a stuffy, art connoisseur to appreciate it (not all connoisseurs are stuffy) . I like the museum because it isn’t so highbrow. I like the Open Air because It’s a museum that doesn’t take itself so seriously. I found that quite refreshing.

Some of the art titles made me wonder if someone was being slightly facetious. For example, do you wanna see a girl with a cock?

Hey, hey, get your mind out of the gutter! 😮 … 😀 . This is what I meant:

See? I wasn't being dirty (maybe just a little), it does exist.

The Picasso Pavilion

Just to show you how much art I know. When I saw the great, big Picasso sign at the museum, I started thinking that he was the guy that was a bit mad, that cut off one of his ears. But that’s not Picasso at all, it’s Van Gogh. The Picasso exhibit was really cool because that had pictures of Picasso himself creating some of the very works that were on display. There were sketches, flubbed pieces, pictures of him with his wife, detailed descriptions (only in French and Japanese, though) and more. It was so interesting to see pieces of a master’s art work that were still in progress. Unfortunately this was one place where I wasn’t allowed to take pictures or record.

A weird but funny sculpture just outside of the Picasso exhibit.

The Hot Spring Foot Bath and Gallery Cafe

Walking around admiring artwork, being on your feet all day, after having been to the Hakone Ropeway/Hiking around a Boiling Valley, can leave your feet a bit sore and your tummy a bit empty. Not to worry, the Open Air Museum has you all taken care of.

The Hot Spring Foot Bath

There was a really interesting foot bath just outside of the cafe. The foot bath is sourced by a natural hot-spring water and uses lemon/orange extracts to help you take a load off.

The foot bath was long trough filled with hot-spring water, with lemons and oranges floating in it. There were umbrellas to shade you from the sun, and mats for you sit down on. It was different a cool at the same time. Inside of the water were smooth, raised stones to help you to massage your feet. Sigh…relaxing.

See the oranges?

Notice the smooth, rounded stones, that you could use to massage your feet. I think they thought of everything.

After a re-energizing foot bath, it was just a twenty-second walk to the cafe. The cafe was had pretty tasty food including soups, sausages, small, hot-dogs, chips (like potato chips), and some great desserts. Yes, the cafe was a little pricier than normal, but nothing crazy. It’s quite normal for cafes like these to be slightly more on the expensive side, I guess museums gotta make money, too, right? But the food was good.

Good food? Umm...YEAH!!

My Favorite Piece at the Hakone Open-Air Museum

I am really glad I had a chance to cover the entire museum, if you go and just look at the main area, you’ll miss some really cool stuff. The one thing I am glad I saw was the “Symphonic Sculpture” by Gabriel Loire (1975). It sits just in front of the Gallery Cafe. Now on the outside, this exhibit doesn’t look like much at all.

Gabriel Loire's Symphonic Sculpture, an outside view

But take a look inside though…a TOTALLY different story…B-E-A-UTIFUL!

I think the Symphonic Sculpture piece almost made drool. Don't ask how, but I liked it.

The Symphonic Sculpture was, hands down, my favorite exhibit in the museum but I’d have to say the runner-up goes to “Miss Black Power” by Niki de Saint Phalle (1968):

In the words of that insightful poet, James Brown: 'Say It Loud! I'm black and I'm proud!'

Additional Open-Air Museum Photos

Hours of Operation

The museum is open from 9:00am to 5:00pm

How Much is Admission?

At the time of this writing, it costs ¥1,600 for adults, ¥1,100 yen for senior citizens, university, and high school students, and ¥800 for middle and elementary school students.

Need More Hakone Open-Air Museum Info?

Not to worry, I got you covered. You can visit their website at www.hakone-oam.or.jp

There were so many odd things here a the Open-Air Museum that I probably would’ve destroyed my camera trying to capture them all. Just a downright fun afternoon.

Well, the Open-Air Museum wraps up my Hakone posts. If you’re new to Japan, visiting, or if you’ve been here for a while (like me) and you’re looking for something cool to do. Visiting Hakone could be just the pick-me-up that you need. It most CERTAINLY was for me.

Have any of you been to the Open-Air Museum? If so, what was your favorite thing? If you haven’t been to the Open Air Museum, what’s the coolest art exhibit you’ve ever seen?

As always, thank you so much for reading!

See you tomorrow! More cool stuff on the way!


p.s.-Newsletter members…I appreciate you being so patient with me, I will include some additional photos in this month’s newsletter. I haven’t forgotten you…trust me 😉

About the Author

  • Fernanda says:

    Hello Donald,

    I always read your site and love it! I hadn´t been dreaming about going to Japan anymore (i studied japanese for four years, but, for some reasons I ended up going to Italy for 6 months instead) but now I refound my love for Japan and want to travel there asap!
    Also, I shared your post with a blog I follow that is about urbanism and I think they will use your post (with credits, of course) because it´s such a beautiful place!
    Thanks for your posts!

    • Donald Ash says:

      Your post really made me smile. I’m always so grateful when people come back to check out the site. I appreciate you sharing the site as well…more than you probably know. I do hope you get a chance to come to Japan (I’m sure Italy is nice, though, too). I haven’t regretted moving here, not for one single second.


  • Nanami says:

    Thanks for sharing. These are really neat ^_^ I think the coolest outdoor exhibit I ever went to was some sort of organ that was controlled via water flow. So you could play with the water and make music XD It was really neat! The name of your favorite reminded me of it ^_^

  • Cotton says:

    Hello, I happen to come across your website from Google as I’m interestes to visit this museum. Would you mind answering my question? If I’d like to visit this place, how long does it take for me to see everything there? Appriciate your reply.

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