The big red gate to Heian-jinja, seen from the Museum of Modern Art (Photo: Peter Sidell)

Kyoto Art Museums: an Introduction

Where to find art around the city

The big red gate to Heian-jinja, seen from the Museum of Modern Art (Photo: Peter Sidell)
Peter Sidell   - 4 min read

Kyoto may be best known as a city of traditional culture, with its wealth of history, its geisha and teahouses, and its hundreds of temples and shrines. However, that's far from being the only point of appeal: there are plenty of art and craft museums scattered across the city, large and small, dealing in both classic and modern art. Whether you're a connoisseur or a casual viewer, there'll almost certainly be something to suit your taste.

Your first stop might well be just south of Heian-jingu, where two of Kyoto's premier art museums face each other over the shrine's imposing red gate. On the west there's the Museum of Modern Art, which has a range of exhibitions dating from Japan's industrialization and opening up to western influence in the late 19th Century; and immediately next door there's the Museum of Traditional Crafts, with displays of hand-made crafts such as dyed textiles, bamboo goods and decorative dolls.

Across the road on the east side is the Municipal Museum of Art, with varied exhibitions of classical art such as western baroque and impressionist paintings and traditional Japanese Nihonga. For more contemporary art, in the very middle of the city is Kyoto Arts Center; it hosts exhibitions in a diverse range of media, and is also home to a quaint cafe and a room packed with information about other exhibitions and events across the city and Kansai.

As well as these heavy hitters, there are a whole host of delightful smaller museums, often dedicated to one particular art or craft. Immediately next to Kyoto Arts Center is the Somé Museum of dyed arts; close to the Museum of Modern Art are the Namikawa Cloisonne Museum with its exquisite lacquered pieces and restful garden, and the Hosomi Museum, which regularly rotates its varied collection, and also has an elegant cafe; and on a touristy shop-lined slope near Kiyomizu-dera there's the Sannenzaka Museum.

To see exquisite miniature sculptures that are the forerunners of today's phone-straps, visit the Seishu Netsuke Museum; for a unique juxtaposition of art and nature, take the train out of the city to the Mount Hiei Garden Museum; if you are drawn to the beauty of kimonos, take a trip to the Yusen-en Kimono Museum, where you can also join a print-making workshop; or if you venture to the Art Complex 1928 you can see a performance of Gear, a dance performance set in an abandoned toy factory of the future.

As well as all these there are many more museums across and around the city; if you visit one of them, why not write about it for JapanTravel?

Peter Sidell

Peter Sidell @peter.sidell

I came to Japan from Manchester, England in 2003, and have travelled a lot since then, around Japan and in Asia. When I'm not working, I write satire and perform stand-up comedy in and around Tokyo. Check YouTube for a taste.