A close-up of the poster outside the museum! (Photo: Peter Sidell)

Sato Sakura Museum Tokyo

Modern paintings in traditional style

A close-up of the poster outside the museum! (Photo: Peter Sidell)
Peter Sidell   - 3 min read

A couple of minutes walk from Naka-Meguro station (close to Shibuya), the Sato Sakura Museum specializes in contemporary Nihonga - paintings executed with traditional Japanese subjects, techniques and materials. It holds a number of different exhibitions each year, and also displays a rotating selection from its collection, many of which are larger screen paintings of cherry-blossoms.

When I visited, the special exhibition was "Large Gathering of Doggies, Kitties and Birdies", which I imagine sounded more elegant in the original Japanese. Many of the paintings showed the animals against plain backgrounds, a style typical of Nihonga, focusing attention on the animals and whatever else the painters saw fit to include. Many of them were light in tone: here, a mix of different dogs are playing with some coloured balls, and here, another mix of dogs are sitting at (and on) a formally laid dining table, waiting for dinner to be served.

The paintings of birds were more restrained: herons on a snowy tree, sparrows among cherry-blossoms on a vibrant gold background, a duck leaving a clear path in its wake as it swims through the fallen petals on the surface of its pond. And the cats were shown in an equal variety of settings; one eyeing a silk spider, one big ginger cat with some butterflies, a set of four paintings with cats shown against backgrounds of seasonal flowers.

On the second floor was "100 Views of Sakura", a roomful of cherry-blossom pictures. These were all very relaxing to look at, and some showed exquisite detail, with every petal of every flower painted individually. There was also a good variety of different views: a night scene with a temple pagoda, a view from above of red parasols under a tree, a forest with some gentle pink blossoms reflected in a lake.

Despite the traditional feel and subject matter, most of the paintings were painted only in the last few years, the very oldest being from 1970. There's a wide diversity in both the exhibitions, so though the museum is quite small, there's plenty to see and enjoy. Then at the exit there's a gift shop selling a small range of goods such as cards and prints, so you can pick up a souvenir of your visit before you head back out into the modern world again.

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.