The Hakone region has many very lovely museums, all of which are worth a visit. However, if you’re visiting the region with your kids, then I highly recommend spending a day at the Hakone Open-Air Museum.
The Hakone Open-Air Museum is the oldest open-air art museum in Japan and is home to over 100 pieces of masterpieces by well-known modern sculptors, all wonderfully displayed against the dramatic beauty of Hakone’s natural landscape.
It also boasts one of the world’s largest collections of work by the English sculptor Henry Moore, and houses a stunning collection of pieces by Pablo Picasso which are on rotating display in the Picasso Pavilion Exhibition Hall.
There are also five exhibition halls which showcase the works of contemporary artists. We were very fortunate to be able to view the quirky, colourful artworks from Taiwanese artist Hung Yi’s Happy Animal Party series. They certainly had a very positive effect on J and Little E, who were both amused and excited by these hilarious, peculiar creatures with their big grins and silly expressions.
I could hardly believe that each piece was created out of entirely out of steel metal sheets! There was such precision in the way each figure was joined together and finished to a seamless shine that is usually associated with glazed ceramic.
The best part about the sculptures at the Hakone Open-Air Museum, is that many of the pieces were made specifically to be interacted with. This makes the park a brilliant place to bring children and surround them with beautiful works of art that are meant to be admired and touched.
One of our favourites was the Symphonic Sculpture, a tall tower of stained glass by the French artist, Gabriel Loire, who trained in medieval stained glass techniques in Chartres before moving on to experiment with a new technique of separating tiny glass pieces with strips of lead in order to form a previously painted design.
The kids climbed slowly up the spiral staircase, marveling all the sparkling glass images (and playing ‘I Spy’, to reach a lookout point at the top with views across the park.
When it started to get warm, we escaped to another exhibition hall, where there was another temporary exhibit with the inviting title of ‘Loafing and Rolling Around’.
This is a special project by the museum to familiarise children with sculptures whilst they run, bounce, slide or rest within a playscape that is based on the typical playground elements of rock, sand, pond and castle. J and Little E loved hiding within Isamu Noguchi’s Octetra, a fibreglass construct made specifically as a public play structure.
I think that it is a brilliant idea to use playgrounds as an artistic medium. Playgrounds are a place for creativity and imagination, and it is nice to see artists who design beautiful and functional play areas that encourage children to experience and appreciate art.
A good example of a beautiful and functional playscape is the Curved Space Diamond Structure by Peter Jon Pearce, which resembles a fluffy castle built of of floaty soap bubbles, but was sturdy enough for children to climb around both inside and out. This playscape was Little E’s favourite, because the whole thing really did sparkle like a bright jewel in the sunlight.
As its name suggests, this sculpture is actually modeled after the structure of a diamond molecule and is made from polycarbonate modules. In the hot sun, you would expect the whole thing to really heat up inside, but there were many vents built into the structure to keep it airy, and there every so often there would be a refreshing spray of mist to keep the whole thing cool!
J’s favourite was this playable sculpture, Woods of Net: Knitted Wonder Space, handknitted by Japanese crochet artist Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam. This rainbow coloured masterpiece is housed within a huge timber structure that is made entirely of logs with no metal parts. This timber pavilion protects the nets from rain or direct sunlight which will fade and erode the knitted textiles.
The knitted playground is made from a braided nylon rope which is soft and elastic, yet durable and strong, and both J and Little E enjoyed climbing, swinging, and bouncing all over it. They soon found themselves playing with other children who joined them in their shenanigans. The structure of this playscape is such that kids are encouraged to take risks in their play, but any falls would be well-cushioned!
After we exhausted ourselves in all these playgrounds, we reached a shady pavilion with wooden benches to sit on, and (joy of joys!) a footbath fed by natural hot springs!
Oh, what a treat to soak weary feet in a hot spring footbath! Just fifteen minutes later and all the soreness in my feet had been soaked away. I felt so invigorated!
The gentleman who manned the hotspring footbath had thrown a bunch of citrus fruits which bobbed up and down the length of the bath, keeping it smelling fresh! Afterwards we each purchased a little towel to dry our feet off.
These little cotton towels are the size of a square handkerchief. Each is printed with Hakone Open-Air Museum logo and comes in a selection of colours.
At 100JP-Yen, they are a real bargain and would make a great souvenir of your trip.
The Museum also has several cafes and restaurants, and they provide free lockers, wheelchairs and strollers if you need them. There’s also rest areas and breastfeeding facilities, so it really is a wonderful place to spend the whole day.