Translated by Ramona Taranu
Tomonaga Akimitsu Museum - A Hidden Art Spot In Tokyo's Enchanted Forest
Written by Tomoko Takahashi
Tokyo's Akiruno city is home to a charming art museum that exhibits the works of sculptor Tomonaga Akimitsu. The museum has a beautiful cafe that allows visitors to enjoy peaceful moments surrounded by nature and art.
The Forest Fairies ZiZis Show the Way! A Hidden Art Spot in Tokyo
Tokyo's Akiruno City is best known as a nature spot with picturesque walking trails along the Akigawa Valley.
After getting off at Musashi-Itsukaichi Station, if you use the North Exit, you'll notice these cute little dwarf statues. Walk in the direction they point to and you'll see more and more of them - along the road, in the gardens of private residences, in the valleys or hiding among the trees of the forest.
These fairies of the forest are called ZiZis, and they show the way to one of Tokyo's most charming art museums: Tomonaga Akimitsu Museum. (*1)
*1... The museum is called ”Fukasawa Chiisana Bijutsukan” in Japanese. You may find it on signboards under the name ”Fukasawa Little Museum” or ”Tomo's Little Art Museum.”
Tomonaga Akimitsu Museum - An Artist's Lifetime Dream
The Tomonaga Akimitsu Museum will strike you first through its appearance. With its irregularly shaped walls, wooden doors, and large windows which allow the warm light inside to leak out, it looks just like a house out of a fairytale.
The museum displays the art of contemporary sculptor Tomonaga Akimitsu. Opened in 2002 in a renovated traditional house, the museum was created by the artist himself. It is actually still in the making, as Mr. Tomonaga makes additions and improvements to the facility every year. The artist's atelier is adjacent to the museum.
Step inside and you'll find yourself in a world populated by fantastical creatures - fairy-like maidens, dwarfs, chimeras, and others - all sculpted from wood. No matter where you come from, you'll most probably feel that there's something familiar about these characters. They evoke the world of unspoiled phantasy of childhood.
Tomonaga Akimitsu Profile
Tomonoga Akimitsu was born in Kochi in 1944. After studying puppet art and design in Australia for seven years, he began his career in Japan as a puppet designer in 1975, creating puppets for anime series and TV commercials.
He won high acclaim for creating the puppets for the popular NHK series ”Prin Prin Monogatari,” which ran for three years in a row from 1979. The show featured about 500 puppets in total. They were all designed and created by Tomonaga.
The artist was involved in creating the puppets and props for stage performances such as ”Himiko: A Legendary Fantasy From Japan,” which was presented in New York in 1987.
In addition to the works on display in his art museum in Akiruno, Tomonaga's works can be seen at annual individual exhibitions and art events.
The Magical World of Tomonaga's Sculptures
Tomonaga's wish was to create a museum and artworks using only materials that would return to nature after degrading. Everything in this museum is created out of wood, paper or stone.
The artist's main source of inspiration is the world of his childhood, with simple, wooden toys, small creatures living in the forest or in the rivers, and local festivals.
Tomonaga's creations can be grouped according to a few recurring themes, as follows.
1. Stage Puppets - Telling the Stories and Legends of Japan
The puppets designed and created by Tomonaga for puppet shows such as ”Prin Prin Monogatari” are displayed in the museum. The picture above shows the main character of the ”Prin Prin Monogatari” series - a princess that travels around the world in search of her homeland.
This particular puppet, known by every soul in Japan who was a child in the early 80s, is very delicate, exuding both strength and kindness. Its hair was painstakingly made using silver thread.
All the other characters, good and evil, can be seen on display in a corner of the museum. Even if you're not acquainted with ”Prin Prin Monogatari”, this display will help you imagine the scale of the story that ran for no less than 656 episodes, enjoying incredible popularity with the audience.
Himiko, the main character of ”Himiko: A Legendary Fantasy From Japan” is also on display. She was modeled after Empress Himiko, who ruled the Yamatai state of ancient Japan. The story follows her life from her birth through her acquiring of shamanistic powers and imperial rule to her death.
2. Wooden Statues
As a sculptor, Tomonaga is best known for his wooden statues of girl figures. These statues often capture a critical moment of transformation or a not yet entirely visible potentiality that lies within a physical body.
For example, a statue may let you see the changing traits of a girl who will one day become a mother. Another statue may make you think of the boundaries of physicality, which, once crossed, point to a state of non-physicality. Yet another statue will allude to the dreams that guide humans in achieving their hidden potential.
The artist took his inspiration from the ballet dancers he worked with during stage performances. Their delicate physicality hinted at the wondrous equilibrium and strength found in an apparently unstable state. His wooden statues that borrow the shape of girls' bodies capture the undeniable though precarious balance that lies within something as changing and fleeting as a living body.
While sculpture works are often voluminous and heavy, Tomonaga creates sculptures that are light and thin. Like any other artist, he attempts to get matter transfigured into another state of being.
3. Lamps, Dwarfs, and Other Ojects
The lamps on display in the museum are made using wood and washi (Japanese paper). They are also handmade by the artist himself and some of them are for sale.
Inside and outside the facility, you'll be able to see ZiZis of various sizes. Some are part of larger artworks, while others stand as humorous guardians of the art collection.
Because every detail of the museum was carefully made by the artist, even the most unseeming object might be hiding a surprize. They are all parts and details of the larger story embodied by this museum that was conceived with humour and boundless creativity.
A Lovely Cafe Space and the Museum Shop
After enjoying the exhibition, how about taking a coffee break in the museum's cafe space?
This room and the objects in it, including the tables and chairs, are also handmade by Tomonaga Akimitsu who treasures the irregular, natural shapes of his materials.
The large windows open up toward the garden and the pond outside. Visitors get to enjoy the greenery outside (or incredible reds and golds in the fall) along with the silence of the forest, which is interrupted only by the chirping of birds.
The art displayed in this room is Tomonaga's personal art collection. It consists in works that he personally liked or creations of his artist friends.
Visitors can actually step outside onto the terrace and take a closer look at the surroundings.
You'll notice that the pond, which was also made by the artist from scratch, combines the qualities of a regular koi fish pond with those of a large fish tank. It is surely unlike anything you've seen before.
Visitors can enjoy coffee or tea for 500 yen in this space. The drinks are prepared by Mrs. Tomonaga, the manager of the museum. She is the one who puts together the beautiful flower arrangements that light up every corner of the facility.
Those who wish to buy keepsakes of their visit to this charming art museum should stop by the small souvenir corner. In addition to postcards featuring Tomonaga's works, you can also buy miniature ZiZis. They make great souvenirs of your adventures and discoveries in Akiruno's forest.
The Tomonaga Akimitsu Museum can be reached in about 40 minutes on foot from JR Musashi Itsukaichi Station (North Exit). You'll see ZiZis standing along the road, showing the way to the museum. Please note that the road is hilly and is similar to a short hike.
If you come by car or taxi, the ride takes about 10 minutes from JR Musashi Itsukaichi Station.
The museum is open from April 1 to November 30. It is closed during the winter months.
Enjoy Your Visit at Tomonaga Akimitsu Museum in Tokyo's Akiruno
If you'd like to spend a day in the heart of nature while still in Tokyo, do consider an outing in Akiruno's Fukasawa area. Amid the beautiful forest and river valleys, you'll find the Tomonaga Akimitsu Museum, a charming art spot that will remind you of childhood dreams, filling your heart with joy.
This area is also famous as a hydrangea viewing spot. If you visit in late June - early July, on the way to the museum, you can stop by the Minamisawa Hydrangea Mountain, a forest-covered mountainside that is home to thousands of beautiful hydrangeas.
Even there, you'll spot ZiZis peeking out from behind flowers and the trees, smiling to you and calling out to play.
Made in cooperation with Tomonaga Akimitsu Museum (Fukasawa Chiisana Bijutsukan)