Asia / Japan

Hello Hakone: The Hakone Open-Air Museum

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.

Sculptures outdoors

Sculptures outdoors 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.

Sculptures in the exhibition hall

Sculptures in the 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 PartyΒ 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.

Exploring the Symphonic Sculpture by Gabriel Loire

Exploring the Symphonic Sculpture by Gabriel Loire

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’.

Let's Loaf and Play

Let’s Loaf and Roll 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.

Curved Space Diamond Structure by Peter Pearce

Curved Space Diamond Structure by Peter Pearce

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!

Inside the Woods of Net by Toshiko Horiuchi Macadam

Inside the Woods of Net by Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam

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.

Bridging art and architecture with knitting

Bridging art and architecture with knitting

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!

Sitting comfortably

Sitting comfortably

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!

Aaaaaaaah that feels good

Aaaaaaaah that feels good

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!

Best Souvenir Ever

Best Souvenir Ever

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.


26 thoughts on “Hello Hakone: The Hakone Open-Air Museum

    • I really wanted to as well, but there is a pretty strict ‘no adults allowed’ policy in there. This actually encourages the bigger kids to really help and look out for the little ones.

      On Tue, Jan 28, 2014 at 10:05 AM, Owl Fly Away

  1. Hi Deb, love your blog thanks for sharing. we are planning to spend two nights in Hakone with out 2 yo son in April 2015 (he’d be 2.5 by then) how old was your daughter when you were there? Did you find the walks difficult for tour daughter? My son doesn’t liking walking most likely we will be carrying him hopefully some walks are not too hard for little one. Do you think two nights in Hakone with a little one is plenty or should we cut down to just one night. My rule of thumb when it comes to traveling with kids has always been min 2 nights at any one place…hope to hear your feedback..

    • Hi Ann, Little E was just a little bit over 2 years old when we went to Hakone. The walks were definitely ok for her but we took it slow and rested often so don’t expect to pack too much into one day. If your boy doesn’t enjoy walking, then stick to the museums, the main town areas or city parks which are all pretty much stroller-friendly. He will DEFINITELY love the Open-Air Museum, which you can spend the whole day in!

      I personally think that there’s a lot to see in Hakone – one night would not be enough! Oh, and check out my sidebar on the right side of the page for the full Hakone itinerary.

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  3. Love this place too! When people ask me where to go with kids in Hakone, I always tell them to go to this museum. They will be like “Museum? With kids?” and I’m like “Yah!! This museum is different – it’s super fun! The kids won’t want to leave!” Glad someone agrees with me!

  4. This place is like Alice In The Wonderland and Wonka’s Chocolate Factory! It is totally special. I love the idea of using art to create playgrounds for children. Love your post!

    • It really reminds me of how much care and effort went into the playground designs in Singapore – the heritage playgrounds are very beautiful! It’s a shame that they are being slowly demolished.

      • Heritage playgrounds are almost extinct in Singapore. I love the slides on our heritage playgrounds. It is much faster and exciting than those plastic playgrounds. πŸ™‚

  5. Thank you Debs for encouraging me to include Hakone when I consulted you for Japan tips. We LOVED it! Our goodwill guide brought us to this Open-Air Museum 2 hours before closing time and we could only managed to tour the outdoor sculptures. We would definitely return to try the kids playground, Dana was disappointed that it was closed during our visit. Will link this post up to ours to share with our readers too πŸ˜€

    • Thanks Angie! Yes, Hakone is SO beautiful and there is so much to see and do there! You must bring Dana and Buddy back to play on the various playscapes – and they rotate their collection so you never know what might be there during your visit.

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