If you were to ask me my favorite place in Hokkaido, it would have to be Geijutsu no Mori (芸術の森), or the Sapporo Art Park. It’s literal Japanese translation is Forest of Art–which I prefer.
I’ve always loved art ever since I was young. I loved all my art classes when I was in school. When I was at Rutgers, I was always at the Zimmerli Art Museum during my down times from class. I also like going to art museums in all the places I’ve visited. Since I’m from New Jersey, a trip to New York City would bring me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art or Moma (the Museum of Modern Art). When I lived in London, the British Museum was a frequent stop. I’ve been to Louvre and the Musee d’Orsey in Paris. I’ve been to the Tokyo Museum of Western Art several times.
But, one thing they had in common was that they were indoors.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that there was such a thing as an outdoor art museum.
My mind. was. blown.
Essentially, the Sapporo Geijutsu no Mori is a park comprised of mainly the Sapporo Art Museum and the Sculpture Garden, a sprawling outdoor area where artwork from Japanese and international artists are displayed. There are also different ateliers and studios. A couple of the halls and art centers are open to the public, where you can have lunch or just look at the displays. There are also a couple of places to eat, one a buffet restaurant and the other a small cafe.
Of course, visiting the galleries costs you, but you don’t need to go inside if you’re not that interested in art. The grounds itself are beautiful, though. The natural setting enhances the architectural aspects of the galleries and buildings. There are couple of man-made pools/lakes that provide a very serene atmosphere for contemplation.
Outside is free–and beautiful. The tree-line paths are good for strolls. In fact, many of the local residents take advantage of this by taking their dogs for walks in the area.
The Sapporo Art Museum, itself is huge, and always changing. A few years ago, there was an M.C. Escher exhibit. This year, Theo Jansen’s work was featured.
However, my favorite part is the outdoor exhibits at the Sculpture Garden. I’ve been here many times, yet every visit is different. What I love about the Art Park is that even though the outdoor sculptures are fixed and permanent, every time you visit, the artwork gives you a different perspective on the same piece. The weather and season is different, which gives you different lighting and color schemes.
You can even touch and feel these sculptures. You’re not just looking at them. I just find everything so immersive that your senses come alive. When the wind blows, some of the objects move. When the stream passes through an object, you hear the sound of running water, feel the chill of the moisture on your hands. When the sunlight hits a piece of work, the shadows they cast create different moods.
The park is open all year, during all the seasons. The best time to enjoy the outdoor museum is in the fall. I think the autumn colors add more beauty to an already incredible experience. I also love to take my time and look at each piece carefully and thinking about what the artist wanted to convey.
Most people do come to visit in the summer, when the weather is warmer, but the heat can get really oppressive because you, along with the sculptures, are exposed to the elements.
It’s also a good place to take your kids. They can be exposed to art while playing in the sculptures themselves.
There are other parks like these in Sapporo, the most famous one is probably Isamu Noguchi’s Moerenuma Park. I do also recommend Bibai’ City’s Arte Piazza, which features the work of Kan Yasuda.
Again, if you’re interested in art and being outdoors, this is the best place to visit.