A Day At The Hakone Open-Air Museum – Japan’s First-Ever Sculpture Park

Although I love visiting open-air museums, usually it is not the first thing on my mind in the middle of winter. Especially not if the landscape all around me is covered under one big white blanket of snow. A recent visit to the Hakone Open-Air Museum in Japan fully changed this mindset though.

Hakone Open Air Museum sculpture park Japan Pomodoro

Sfera con Sfera by Arnaldo Pomodoro at Hakone Open-Air Museum

When we travelled to the mountainous Hakone region early February of this year, the amount of snow in the region was enormous. Initially we thought this would throw our chance for a proper view of the museum in the (frozen) water. Still, as I expected not to return to Japan that quickly, I was determined to visit the museum, which we already listed as one of the world’s best sculpture parks. My thought was that if the museum is open, there must be something to see, right? So off we went with the cute little Hakone Tozan train into the Hakone region.

Hakone Tozan train

In the Hakone Tozan train.

Visiting The Hakone Open-Air Museum

Upon our arrival we were luckily met by some pretty blue skies hovering above the wintery Hakone landscape. And what landscape it is, the museum is situated in. All around you will see mountains covered with green-leafed trees, which during our visit were nicely covered with a little layer of snow. Because of this mountainous landscape the museum – encompassing about 70,000 square meters – is naturally set at different levels. This made our walk through the park into a fun discovery walk. We just did not know, what would be awaiting us further up or down.

Some Facts About The Hakone Open-Air Museum

Founded almost fifty years ago, in 1969, the Hakone Open-Air Museum was by the way the first outdoors sculpture park in Japan. Throughout the years the museum collection slowly expanded and today it contains about 120 outdoors objects besides the varying number of objects showcased indoors.

The Outdoors Part Of The Museum – From Realistic To Contemporary Art

While strolling through the park we came across world-class art objects of different well-known national and international artists. Most pieces are modern or contemporary objects made in the 20th century and range from more realistic to abstract. Speaking of the last, the artworks of Henry Moore have a prominent place in the park. There is in fact a dedicated area for them close to an immense artwork of Niki de Saint Phalle.

Hakone Open Air Museum Japan Niki de Saint Phalle Barbara Hepworth

Niki de Saint Phalle at the Hakone Open-Air Museum

We also encountered some fun artworks, like the below Knitted Wonder Space. This immense artwork in the Woods of Nets is apart from an artwork also a little playground for young and old.

Hakone Open Air Museum sculpture park Japan

Knitted Wonder Space by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam at Hakone Open Air Museum

Apart from 20th-century art there is also some older art (including a Rodin) and some art of the 21st century at display, like the below one of Giuliano Vangi, which is one of the heaviest sculptures in the park.

Hakone Open Air Museum Sculpture park Japan Vangi

Grande Racconto by Giuliano Vangi at the Hakone Open-Air Museum

What is really noticeable, is that the artworks are not just randomly placed throughout the museum park. The location of each artwork seems to have been carefully chosen to best fit its natural surroundings. We can just imagine how the park must look different with the seasons changing.

Hakone Open Air Museum

The Indoors Part Of The Museum – Picasso And More

Although the largest part of the museum is outdoors, there are a number of exhibitions indoors. Where some of these are temporary, others are permanent. One of the permanent exhibitions is in the Picasso Pavilion. This pavilion opened its doors as recent as 2016. It contains over 300 works of the Spanish artist himself, as well as materials about him.

Hakone Open Air Museum Japan Picasso Fernand Leger sculpture park

The Picasso Pavilion to the left and Fernand Leger at the right.

All in all we would say that the Hakone Open Air Museum is one of the destinations you just can’t miss out on as an art-aficionado visiting Japan. Even if you are less of an art-fan, the surroundings of the museum certainly will make your visit into a memorable one whichever time of the year.

Symphony .. in the Hakone Open-Air Museum

Tips For Your Visit To The Hakone Open-Air Museum

The Museum

First of all we recommend you to download the guide map from the official museum website. It gives you an idea of what there is to see and also of the size of the park.

We advise you to schedule at least two to three hours to see the museum properly. This should give you enough time to take in the galleries and the sculpture park, and even treat your feet with a traditional Japanese footbath (next to the restaurant). We spent about four hours strolling around, including a coffee break and making loads of pictures.

Also, on the museum website is an online discount coupon, saving you some 100 Yen per person, which money you can easily spend again in the excellent museum shop or restaurant.

When To Visit

The Hakone Open Air Museum is practically open all year round from 9 am to 5 pm. Depending on the weather parts may be less accessible for safety reasons. In any event, tremendous care is being put into making your visit as enjoyable as possible during every season of the year, day in day out. And this shows, even during this wintery day in February.

Woods of Nets at Hakone Open Air Museum sculpture park

Woods of Nets at Hakone Open Air Museum

Where To Stay

Although there are different villages to stay in the region, we decided to stay in a tidy, spacious room at the Hotel Hakone Terrace in Gora. Gora is one of the villages nearest to the museum.

From Gora’s station you can simply take the train or the bus to Chokoku-no-Mori Station. This station is a short walk from the Hakone Open Air Museum.

Hakone Open Air Museum Kenneth Armitage sculpture park

Kenneth Armitage at Hakone Open-Air Museum.

If you decide to stay in Gora, just like us, beware that there are some steep roads to climb here and there. You are in a mountainous region after all. If you have heavy luggage, just take a cab to your hotel or arrange for a hotel pickup if possible.

It is by the way also possible to go here on a day trip from Tokyo. Count on some 2 hours one way to get here.

What Else

Although we were here only for a couple of days, we could have spent a full week in the whole Hakone region alone just easily. There are some excellent museums scattered throughout the region and there is some beautiful scenery to enjoy.

Looking for more art destinations in Japan or in Asia? Check this page for more of our art experiences in this part of the world.