No. 52  Going to Art Museums Off the Beaten Path

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Venture out of the city center, and you will encounter the original Musashino landscapes in Tokyo. This time, we feature art museums and history museums fun to walk to, in outlying areas.

Fukasawa Little Art Museum


An art museum of stone built by an artist

Many children count all the ZiZi fairies along the road to the museum.

On a sunshiny day during the rainy season, JR Musashi-Itsukaichi Station is crowded with groups going to river BBQs. The climb begins from there, on a quiet single-lane road leading to Minamisawa Hydrangea Mountain. It’s a 40-minute walk to “Fukasawa Little Art Museum” operated by sculptor Akimitsu Tomonaga. Still, the paved road is pleasant to walk on, and the gurgle of mountain streams and beauty of the gregarious hydrangeas makes the hiking twice as fun. At a road junction, ZiZi fairies in red or yellow caps, hand-carved by Tomonaga, point the way, and we arrive at the stone art museum without getting lost.
The garden is planted with some 200 Japanese maples and has a carp pond and a pond where a 1.5-meter sturgeon swims. As if called by the beauty of an open bay window, we go inside the museum.
Doing so, we enter the world of Akimitsu Tomonaga. There are wood-sculpted statues and bronze statues. There are mushroom-shaped lamps of Japanese washi paper, unique fish objects, and many statues of prepubescent girls. Tall and super-slender, the girls are striking for their curved forms and supple wood grain, which make one want to touch them. “They take the form of girls,” Tomonaga says, “but I carve them with thoughts of my childhood.” Raised near Kochi prefecture’s Shimanto River, he knows wood well. Using a knife, he has carved all manners of things. Drawing from his childhood experiences, he creates artworks giving play to the natural qualities of zelkova, cherry, and cryptomeria. Surprisingly, the girl statues are sculpted, head to toe, from a single piece of wood.


Wood-sculpted girl. Carved from one piece of wood, except the wings.

“Princess Purin Purin” puppet

Another museum feature is “Purin Purin Monogatari” (Tale of Princess Purin Purin), a puppet program popular among children, broadcast on NHK television for three years starting in 1979. It follows Princess Purin Purin as she searches for her own country and her parents and meets all kinds of puppets on the way. The program’s puppets were all created by Tomonaga, and they are displayed here in a dense group. Each puppet has a striking, memorable face. “I saw children as my rivals,” Tomonaga says of that time. He looked at children sincerely without pampering them. The program is currently being rebroadcast on BS Premium.

In fact, the art museum building, its garden and ponds are all handmade by Tomonaga. Getting advice from pros, such as concerning the number of pilings necessary for the foundation, he constructed the building nearly alone. The museum is built in the image of Gaudi’s architecture, and the pillars and oval windows using stones in the café are especially striking. While gazing at the pond and ruminating on Tomonaga’s words, “A creator, I was told, shouldn’t try to fit the mold,” the thought comes to mind—“This is the happy experience one finds by going off the beaten path.”

Museum with a thatched roof

Masako’s study

After getting off at Tsurukawa Station on the Odakyu Line and walking 12~13 minutes through a residential district, a bamboo grove comes into view. Passing through the gate, one is overwhelmed by a great persimmon tree, over 100 years old. This is Buaiso, the former home of Jiro Shirasu and his wife Masako, who moved here in 1943. The name, given by Jiro, is an amalgamation of the kanji characters for Musashi and Sagami—the two former provinces on whose boundary the house stands.
Jiro Shirasu, an entrepreneur, worked as an aide to Japan’s Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida during the Occupation. Masako is renowned as an essayist and collector of antiques. Jiro met Masako, a granddaughter of Count Kabayama, on returning from his studies at Cambridge University. They felt a strong mutual attraction and married. During World War II, they moved to this farmhouse in Tsurukawa village.

Muromachi-period Noh mask, “Rojo”

The thatched building, the couple’s main house, has been opened as a museum. Their life at that time has also been recreated: a leather sofa sits in the living room, and shelves of books surround Masako’s study. Along with Masako’s kimono, ceramics pieces, and personal accessories, the museum displays valuable items recalling the events in modern history Jiro had a role in.
Museum entrance is limited to visitors of junior-high school age and older. However, anyone can freely enter the bar (a renovated raised-floor granary) and garage café, where a century-old, American-made Paige car of the model owned by Jiro is parked. Then, the tastefully designed restaurant (a renovated storage shed) offers a menu of shrimp curry, “oyako-don,” and other dishes that recall Jiro and Masako’s table. The museum gives visitors a sense of the couple’s tastes while preserving the atmosphere of the farmhouse.
Some 700,000 people have visited the museum since its 2001 opening. The museum director, Yoshio Makiyama, who is also the Jiro and Masako’s son-in-law, tells us, “Visitors can not only see the precious exhibits but also feel the nostalgia of early Showa-period lifestyle and enjoy lunch in the fresh, clean air.” Choruses of cicadas resound among the trees, and owls and raccoon dogs visit. With kinran flowers in early summer, tinted leaves in autumn, and camellia flowers in winter, the museum offers a taste of nature and the four seasons.
Ceramics classes, Noh classes, and concerts are held at Buaiso, and many people gather at its members club. The traditions of Jiro and Masako’s salon, which drew people from political and cultural circles, are still now carried on.

◆Related information◆
Fukasawa Little Art Museum
No Japanese or English website
Address: 492 Fukasawa, Akiruno City / Hours: 10am~5pm / Closed: Wed & Thur and December to March / Admission: Adults 500yen, Elementary, Junior high, and High school students 300yen/ Access: 40-min walk from JR Musashi-Itsukaichi Station. 5 min by taxi / Inquiries: 042-595-0336 (museum telephone)

Updated: August 25, 2017