Hakone Open Air Museum

Traveling with Family in Japan: The Hakone Open-Air Museum 箱根彫刻の森美術館

Joanne G. Yoshida

Japan is famous for it's temples, shrines and pachinko parlors. Perhaps equally distinctive, but not as well known are the innovative spaces of its museums.

Hakone Open-Air Museum and the Hakone Glass Forest

The Hakone Open-Air Museum and the Hakone Glass Forest are two art institutions that go beyond the bounds of traditional gallery walls and exemplify a creative and dynamic approach to museum-going in Japan.

At The Hakone Open-Air Museum, the sky and mountains are awesome and ever-changing backdrops to approximately 120 sculptural works.


These include pieces by Rodin, Calder, Caro, Dubuffet, Miro, Miyawaki, Niki de Saint Phalle, Vangi, and Rosso; as well as one of the world's largest collections of Henry Moore; and sculptures by other artists from Japan and around the world. The Hakone Open-Air Museum opened in 1969 as the first open air museum in Japan.

After paying admission and descending an escalator 'into' the museum, the visitor enters the outdoors and is greeted by whatever conditions the sky is exhibiting that day.

When we went it was just after the rain of several days had let up; the still ominous gray and cloudy sky added to the drama of an already breath-taking landscape.

Bull sculpture, Hakone Open Air Museum.
Hakone Open Air Museum.

"Round Plaza"

We started out using a map, which showed that we were in the "Round Plaza" but were soon advised by a massive bronze bull to put our map aside and enjoy the adventure of exploring the grounds without a plan.

It was a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland-like experience to see the playful, larger-than-life medama yaki (fried eggs, sunnyside up), which lay low to the plaza while the bull practically stopped us in our tracks.


We got away from him just in time to find a stairway down a few steps into the earth, into a small dark space, which opened up to a tiny window to the sky. Once back up to ground level, we realized that the sculptures were not simply statues to look at from a distance, but rather they were objects to interact with and help us understand our connections to the landscape.

Interactive sculpture, Hakone Open Air Museum.
Hakone Open Air Museum, Kanagawa Prefecture.

"Net of Woods"

The next works' we saw were actually meant for play. A series of colorful frames to walk through led us to a small building which housed a play area for children, and then into the Net of Woods, an intricate and elaborate rainbow-colored world of nets designed by Canada-based artist Toshiko Horiuchi.

Children played in this colorful several-tiered hammock set up within a rustic wooden structure. While my daughter played in the nets, the adults (my mother and I) strolled past perfectly placed sculptures down to the Picasso Pavilion.

Picasso Pavilion

Inside the pavilion are works by Pablo Picasso including a huge full-wall tapestry, and beautiful works I had never seen before in silver. Amidst these and some drawings and paintings, we found that the main focus of the collection was originally centered around an acquisition of 188 ceramic art pieces inherited by his daughter Maya.

The collection, like the rest of the museum, was filled with play and expression. It was a refreshing surprise to find this group of work by Picasso in the storybook town of Hakone.

Unfortunately, I didn't spend as much time as I'd have liked there, because I wanted to get back to my daughter before she'd get lost in the Net of Woods.

Access - Getting to Hakone Open Air Museum

Hakone Open Air Museum
Tel: 0460 82 1161
Hours: 9am-5pm
Admission: Adults 1,600 yen
Access: From JR Odawara Station or Odakyu Hakone Yumoto Station, take the Hakone Tozan Line train to Chokoku-no-Mori Station. Then a two minute walk.
From JR Odawara Station or Odakyu Hakone Yumoto Station, take the Hakone Tozan bus or Izu-Hakone bus to Ninotaira Iriguchi Station. Then a five minute walk. Alternatively, take the Hakone Tour Bus to Chokoku-no-Mori Station. There are trains and buses to Hakone from Shinjuku Station in Tokyo.

Text + images by Joanne G. Yoshida

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