HAKONE OPEN AIR MUSEUM - at the height of beauty

Mount Fuji is certainly one of Japan's most mesmerizing and iconic sights: A perfectly shaped cone, its top coated by a hood of snow - no wonder this sacred mountain is on top of every visitor's list.

Sunnyside up: At Hakone's outdoor gallery, visitors are invited to become one with the art - literally.

Although on clear days, you can be lucky to spot it all the way from Tokyo, most people take a day trip either to the Fujigoko Fuji Five Lake region at the northern foot of the mountain or to Hakone, a hot spring region with many grand places to experience....like the Hakone Open Air Museum, an outdoor gallery at the height of beauty.

World-famous Mount Fuji, probably Japan's most iconic landmark, is a still active volcano, albeit, it erupted for the last time in 1707, so no worries.

Called respectfully Fuji-san by locals, it is the country’s tallest peak. And while not everyone wants to hike the 3,776 meters to the summit, everyone wants to awe at this perfectly even cone, topped with a hood of snow.

Going to Hakone

It was September, it wasn't supposed to be so hot. Nevertheless, for days, I was soaked in my own sweat as soon as I stepped out of my climatized hotel in Tokyo's Ueno district.

Only this particular day, the day I had planned a day trip to the Hakone region about 100 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, I began to freeze in my dark blue, kneelong'n'sleeveless sheath dress. Two hours on a train. On a train that was clearly heading from Tokyo's light cirrostratus clouds into a low hanging, deep dark sky. A tad unfortunate for great views of a grand mountain. A bit uncalled for when visiting an outdoor gallery.

And yes, indeed, as soon as I got off the scenic train at Chokoku No Mori station, the last station before the terminal station of Gora, I felt the first drops of rain.

While this by no means changed my plans on visiting the museum, I put all my other plans for the day on hold - like taking a boat ride across lake Ashi...and most of all taking pictures of majestic Fuji-san; I hardly could spot the tops of the mountains surrounding me, there wasn't even a chance of seeing Mount Fuji.

Open Air Galleries

I'm an art addict and visit many exhibitions every year. When you see so much art, you also tend to pay attention to the setting, the background, and the composition and combination of the individual pieces.

For a couple of years now, I appreciate particularly the shows where the art enters into a dialogue with the venue so that both components are raising each other up and grant the beholder a different, fresh, unusual perspective.

A grand view of the green outdoor gallery and some of the wonderful sculptures.

All the better when this venue is outdoors so that the manmade works are matching the beauty created by nature. Remarkable - who am I kidding: unmissable! - examples are the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art on the shore of the Øresund Sound in Humlebæk north of Copenhagen and, of course, the King of Kings, the best of them all: Inhotim Art Institute, one of the largest exhibitions of contemporary art in Brazil and an overwhelming botanical garden. I've praised it in a former post.

Although significantly smaller, the Hakone Open Air Museum stands proudly side by side with those famous art grails.

Hakone Open Air Museum

The venue was opened in 1969 and is Japan's first Open Air Museum. The museum houses over 1,000 sculptures, however, only about 120 pieces are on permanent display at this park which is a size of 70,000 square meters.

These two sculptures by Japanese artist Takao Tsuchida welcome the visitors across from the entrance.

Surprise with the Glare

Sound of Wind

There are also five indoor galleries, but the venue's strongest suit is definitely the outdoor exhibits.

Big statues by Emile-Antoine Bourdelle: Grande Statue de la Force, Grande Statue de la Liberté, Grande Statue de la Victoire, and Grande Statue de L'Eloquence - they are grande, indeed.

There are sculptures from different artistic epochs arranged on the premises and interestingly enough, the humongous space and the majestic mountains around them don't make them look tiny but somehow even add to their grandeur.

Another balancing figure by Swedish master Carl Milles: Man and Pegasus.
This sculpture of Bellerophon falling from the winged horse's back while trying to reach Mount Olympus is just perfectly positioned in front of those...mounts. 

I will not lie to you: I did not particularly enjoy the cool, humid weather. And a blue sky in the backdrop wouldn't have hurt the composition of my pictures one bit.
Nonetheless, I must admit that the fog and the clouds definitely added to the drama and grandezza of many of the huge, epochal statues.

Nature added some light drops to Francois Morellet's sculpture Sphère-Trames.

“Sculpture is an art of the open air,” once said one of the most famous sculptors of all time Henry Moore. And there is lots of open air at this green gallery where 10 of Moore’s sculptures are presented.

Along with international sculpting stars such as Constantin Brâncuși, Barbara Hepworth, Niki de Saint Phalle and many, many moore...sorry: more.

It runs in the family.
Family Group by Henry Moore.

Reclining Figure - Arch Leg, one of Henry Moore's most famous pieces

Miss Black Power by Niki de Saint Phalle

La Pleureuse is resting her head in a pool of her own tears.
A very poetic piece by Francois-Xavier and Claude Lalanne.

Grande Racconto by Giuliano Vangi. This - not only for its size - very impressive piece depicts one man's journey into the future. 

Both Arms by Kenneth Armitage - certainly one of the most interesting British sculptors. 

The Hand of God by Carl Milles is balancing a naked man on the thumb and forefinger. Considering that this was one of the artist's last works, it deems almost prescient.

It's raining, get up, you'll get all wet!
Close by Antony Gromley

For All the Children - Big And Small

Even those who cannot be amazed by the art as such won't regret their visit to the Open Air Museum since there is so much fun stuff to explore; like for instance a below ground level maze that has to be traversed.

Quirky British sculpture: The Boxing Ones by Barry Flanagan.

Or a vertiginous tower which has to be climbed: Symphonic Sculpture was created by French artist Gabriel Loire and can be climbed over a spiral staircase. If you are not afraid of heights, you'll be able to admire Loire's beautiful work made from colorful stained glass.
On top of the tower is an observatory that grants you a view of the wonderful sceneries.

Going up.

Detail from the Symphonic Sculpture by Gabriel Loire.

The youngest art connaisseurs will find exhibits they are not only allowed to touch - usually a big no-no at art exhibitions - they can even climb them. Only the youngest visitors, though. The adults have to admire Peter Pearce's Curved Space Diamond Structure and Toshiko MacAdam's knitted playground.

The maze for the big kids in the front, the playground for the little ones in the back: Toshiko MacAdam's playground knitted from nylon is sheltered by a wooden structure. 

Adults can only enviously observe how the little kids are having fun.

Yes, that's correct: Japanese artist Toshiko MacAdam, now based in Canada, is known for her knitted sculptures and playgrounds. While your grandma and my grandma are knitting shawls and sweaters, MacAdam knitted this playground in only one year - entirely by hand.

Fun in bright colors.

There's Joan Miró's Personnage waiting at the Woods of Net's exit.

Arnoldo Pomodoro Sfera con Sfera Different versions of this bronze sculpture can be admired in many places all over the world.

Reflected in Bukichi Inoue's My Sky Hole.

Come Inside

Besides the large outdoor space, there are five indoor galleries of which the Picasso Exhibition Hall is the most spectacular one. I'm personally not that fond of Picasso, but I actually enjoyed his small sculptures and most of all ceramics on display.

Next to the entrance are some art laboratories where visitors can play a little around and get creative. Being the clown that I am, I adored the hall where you can become part of a piece of art.

Everyone else was adopting the posture of these guys. Can you see why I didn't?

There are also cafeterias and vending machines on the premises and, of course, you exit through the gift shop.


So, was it worth it?
Well, I'm a big art aficionado and do travel around the globe to see exhibitions, so for me, it was definitely worth the money as well as the time.
If you're not such a huge art fan, you need to make up your mind if you really want to travel a total of about five hours and spend about 30 bucks - apart from the entrance fee - to see the Open Air Museum.

Art'n'Nature = The perfect match!
To the left Takamichi Ito's Sixteen Turning Sticks, Pomodoro's Sfera con Sfera, and to the right Bukichi Inoue's My Sky Hole.

It is definitely not to be missed if you are going to Hakone, anyway - especially on an overnight trip. If you want to take also the boat ride to see Mount Fuji, you'll have to get there really early and consider getting back to Tokyo quite late since the distances between the points of interest are farther than you'de think. However, it's makeable.

Practical Information

The Hakone Open Air Museum is open daily from 9 a. m. to 5 p. m.

General admission is 1600 yen, 1400 yen with the Hakone Free Pass, and 1500 yen with an online discount coupon.

Next to the entrance, there are lockers for free, however, they are coin-operated. Wheelchairs and strollers can be rented free of charge.

Besides the usual cafeteria and gift shop, visitors can enjoy a warm, relaxing foot bath right on the premises.

How to Get There

Coming from Tokyo, you have to go to Odawara, and there are two lines you can take: If you want to use your JR Pass, you can take the Tokaido Shinkansen at Tokyo Station. Otherwise, there is the Odakyu line running from Shinjuku Station. Here you have the choice between an express train - which for some unfathomable reason is called romance car and takes about 90 minutes. The romance sets you back 2,330 Yen one way - but can you really put a price tag on romance?!
If you are less romantic and willing to spend half an hour more on the regular train, you pay only 1,190 one way.

From Odawara, you are shuttled by the Hakone Tozan train which is not included in any of these tickets. You have to pay up to 400 Yen - depending on how far you're going.

If you want to explore more of Hakone, the Hakone Free Pass is a great option. It includes the return trip from Tokyo - on the regular train, not the romance car - and also unlimited use of many means of transportation around the Hakone region. Also, you have discounted access to some attractions.

How to Get Around

I'd like to emphasize once again that the Open Air Museum is only one of many attractions and activities around the Hakone region.

Since I had already picked an overnight trip from Tokyo to Kawaguchi-Ko, I didn't have the time to spend more than one day in Hakone. From what I saw, I would definitely recommend it.

If you go there for at least two days, you should consider getting the Hakone Free Pass.

Without the pass, I had to pay about 360 Yen from Odawara to Chokoku No Mori station which is located just a couple of steps from the museum.

There are busses going from every 20 to every 60 minutes between all the points of interest. You can ride them as much as you like for free with the Hakone Free Pass.

Do you want to read about all the other beautiful places I've visited in Japan? Then go to the main post and take your pick!

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  1. Wow, this artwork looks super cool. Some of it looks provocative or surreal, with lots of though provoking discusses you could have around it. What a fascinating looking place.

  2. OMG, this may be the coolest art museum I've ever seen! I would absolutely love to be able to get up close and personal with the exhibits like that rather than admire them from afar (as one usually does at art museums)!

  3. What a cool museum! I really love the setting and the art is absolutely beautiful! A treasure to know about! Thank you so much, Renata!

  4. THIS IS SO UNIQUE! I totally loved this post! I've never been to an open air museum, and now I feel like it has shot to the top of my bucket list. I'm just beginning to get into the "art scene" and kind of understand what it all means, this is so cool. I'm doing a search for other open air museums as I write this!


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