Kyoto Art and Design Scene: A Glimpse

Kyoto Art Design Scene Dragon Sculpture Clay Shrine

One of the joys of Kyoto — and indeed Japan — is that the locals apparently approach all aspects of life artfully.

So even though my experience of Kyoto art and design was largely restricted to toddler-accessible locations, it was still possible to enjoy many examples of visual creativity around the city. (In addition, I escaped on a bicycle during nap time one sunny afternoon, armed with a Kyoto Art Map, which can be found at galleries and cafes around town).

Here are a few glimpses of art that I saw, with a slight emphasis on contemporary work. Having visited many temples and traditional gardens on my last visit to Kyoto, ten years ago, I decided to focus my attention this time upon a more modern version of Japan.

Having said that, it’s not really possible to untangle the old from the new!

Following the images are a few of my suggestions for an art and design experience in the inspiring city of Kyoto.

Kyoto Art Design Scene Cafe Drawing Painting Aframe Sign Sidewalk

At top: a chunky dragon figure dominates a footpath display or shrine. Above: a simple line drawing on an A-frame advertises hot drinks.

Kyoto Art Design Scene Akase Mifusa Gallery Exhibition

Bold animal paintings by Akase Mifusa are displayed in windows above a row of retail stores, creating an outdoor gallery of sorts.

Kyoto Art Design Scene Street Art Sticker Paste Up Graffiti

I love the sticker on the electrical pole: conceptual art on the street, perhaps?

Kyoto Art Design Scene Kokeshi Shop Window Traditional Junk Secondhand

A sweet, kokeshi-style painted doll in a junk shop window.

Kyoto Art Design Scene Dohjidai Gallery 1928 Building Exhibition

An exhibition at the Dohjidai Gallery of Art, which is at the centre of a creative hub in Kyoto.

Kyoto Art Design Scene Japan Obi Tie Kimono Colourful Rainbow

A display of obi/kimono ties, yet another visual treat.

Kyoto Art Design Scene Cat Sculpture Clay Beckoning Maneki Neko Modern

A contemporary take on the beckoning cat called maneki neko. (Unfortunately I don’t have a record of who created these beauties, I admired them through the window of the gallery).

Kyoto Art Design Scene Department Store Sfera Italy Milan European Style Homewares

Marvellous use of natural materials and pared-down style at Sfera, a rarefied design department store in which I was the only browser. Weird! But wonderful.

Kyoto Art Design Nijiyura Chu Sen Dye Traditional Technique Dyeing Japan Osaka Textiles

An old fashioned dying technique called chu-sen is used to create modern textiles in the shop, Nijiyura, pictured above.

Kyoto Art Design Scene Dog Sculpture Clay Florist Shop Flowers Plants

Colours and textures from nature are regularly a feature of artful displays around the city.

Listed below are some names and locations that I discovered while exploring Kyoto, and this is without even venturing towards some of the bigger arts institutions:

  • Gallery Morning Kyoto is a small gallery space featuring solo exhibitions that seem to be by emerging artists. I was happily surprised, when I visited, to be introduced to the artist whose work I was admiring.
  • Gallery Kei masters a sublime combination of traditional Japanese materials and modern display sensibility. Mindblowingly beautiful (for more images, see images by Rios).
  • Tomohito Matsubara is a jewellery artist who can capture the essence of a cherry-blossom in a precious metal.
  • Hori Nobuko creates whimsical worlds in pastel colours, and Ayaka Ogawa is also an artist specialising in cute characters. They were both showing work in the building that houses Cafe Independants.
  • An exhibition by Komorik of air plants and other dried flora was very lovely.
  • If you’re looking to buy art and design books and products, the super-cool store called Angers is the place to go.
  • Cafe Independants is an underground cafe/bar for-and-by creative types. It’s in a building with galleries and artists (some mentioned above), and well worth a visit, even if you can’t get down the stairs because you are pushing a double-stroller. But the entrance to the cafe is artistic, too; see below.

Kyoto has long been a hub for artisans, so it’s no surprise that it has a thriving art scene today. To connect with it, I highly recommend you get hold of a Kyoto Art Map… or simply roam the streets and keep your eyes open!

Kyoto Art Design Cafe Independants Indepenents Japan Underground Stairs Gallery Artist Hub

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