In Japan there are around 5,738 museums, galleries and exhibition spaces according to Japan’s Agency for cultural affairs. Many of these relate to the country’s own history and culture as well as the recognition of contemporary artists; to a non-Japanese person who has an interest in learning more about Japan, this sounds incredible.
Alas, we are not in Japan. However that doesn’t mean that there is nothing of the sort in the UK — specifically London. In fact, hidden away are a number of great galleries and exhibition spaces dedicated to all things Japanese.
Now, I’m not talking about places that have just a small section of Japanese related content; this can be found in numerous museums and galleries up and down the country. I’m focusing on spaces that someone would go to if they wanted to learn and explore all things Japanese from start to finish.
Luckily this sounds like us. So, here are some Japanese galleries and exhibition spaces in London to visit where you can do just that.
Located in Old Street, Sway Gallery is both a gallery and a concept store. It houses artwork on one half of its premises that is ever-changing with works from a variety of Japanese-born artists. The other side to Sway Gallery is the concept store in which you are able to purchase a variety of Japanese goods that often originate from Japan. There is quite the range from stationary to tea.
Being both an exhibition space and a concept store means the two inevitably overlap, as such, you are often able to purchase many pieces from an exhibit.
Although primarily exhibiting wall art such as paintings and photos, the gallery has created exhibits around other mediums such as ceramics and sculpture while also providing demonstrations, and talks on site. Exhibitions here change relatively frequently and together with the concept store makes Sway Gallery an ideal place to ‘pop-into’.
Grace Tsumugi Fine Art
If you were looking for something more tangible, maybe something with age and history — try a visit to Grace Tsumugi Fine Art. On display you can find pieces of Japanese craft; whether that be ceramics, paintings or carvings, that date back from around the end of the Edo period onwards (1868 – onwards). Many items are beautifully curated and displayed throughout the venue and is close to what could be called a ‘museum’.
This venue is classed as a gallery but it can also be described as a specialist antiques dealer as — if you are serious — you can inquire about procuring your own pieces if you’re heavily into Japanese antiques.
White conduit projects
Next we have a very intimate little homage to Japanese artistic creations. Perhaps the smallest on this list, White conduit projects is an inconspicuous gallery that showcases primarily works that have Japanese inspiration, created by both Japanese artists and those internationally.
The exhibitions on display are very contemporary and often have abstract qualities and characteristics, making this space utterly unique compared to other Japanese galleries.
What this venue lacks in space it makes up for by its inclusion of a variety of other content. Conversations with some of the artists who have work on display, as well as a variety of demonstrations and performances are some of the other reasons to at least swing by this gallery.
If this seems interesting, look for it at White Conduit Street, Islington.
Japanese Gallery Kensington
Here we have a space that has decided not to be too ambiguous. Japanese Gallery Kennsington is just that, and states to have ‘one of the largest collections of Japanese antiques in the world’. While maybe not much to look at from the outside, inside is a treasure trove of Japanese goodness.
It is a museum-like environment where many items are on display to view. Yet instead of feeling sterile and constrained, it is replaced with a coziness and familiarity. There is quite a collection from ceramics and lacquer to military antiques such as swords, accessories, and armor, but a big part of this gallery is the famous Ukiyo prints (Japanese woodblock prints). Such is the case, there is also an entire separate space for more of them two doors down the street.
Japan House London
Last on the list is perhaps the most well-known centre for Japanese happenings in London. Japan House (London) is not a quintessential gallery or museum like some of the others; as well as containing shops and eateries, it’s a contemporary exhibition space that explores and exhibits many widely differing aspects of Japan.
The venue houses major exhibitions for a period of several months while at the same time sharing many smaller projects; carefully created displays, screenings of films and documentaries, workshops, talks and demonstrations to name a few.
This is all possible for a number of reasons. Apart from being by far the largest venue on the list, Japan house is part of an initiative by the Japanese ministry of foreign affairs to bring Japanese culture to the rest of the world. Because of this they have a lot of resources and knowledge at their disposal.
While we may not have access to 5,738 different Japanese galleries, museums, and exhibition spaces — or even 1% of that number — it doesn’t mean there is no way to indulge and learn about Japan. There are those in London that share an enthusiasm for Japanese creativity and culture and it’s just about finding where they exist.