Maybe you’ve seen her work installed in London’s Tate Modern, Paris’s Pompidou Center, Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory or your local museum. Or clicked on a viral Instagram post from one of her infinity rooms, mirrored walls reflecting color and light into the abyss.
Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has taken the world by storm with her avant-garde polka-dot style. Her sculptures and installations have wowed millions of visitors, garnering awards and earning her the title of “world’s most popular artist in 2014” by Art Newspaper.
But scoring a ticket to a sold-out show isn’t the only way to see the 90-year-old artist’s creations. In Japan, her art is all around you. You just have to know where to look.
We’re here to help you plan a veritable Kusama scavenger hunt that takes you across Japan, the perfect excuse for checking out a range of city and country environments and all of the pleasures in-between.
Yayoi Kusama Museum, TOKYO
If you’re planning a month or so ahead, we recommend reserving tickets online at the artist’s dedicated museum in the western suburbs of Tokyo. The five-floor museum admits just 200 people a day and visits are restricted to 90 minutes, but the exclusivity makes for a special experience. Visitors have plenty of time to explore the Instagrammable infinity rooms and check out colorful paintings and sculptures.
TMG South Observation Deck, TOKYO
For those in Tokyo looking for a more impromptu creative experience, head to the newly renovated Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observation Deck to play Kusama’s “Memory Piano.” The grand piano, painted yellow with black oscillating waves of the artist’s signature spots, is free to play and meant to invoke nostalgia and enrich the 360-degree city views. It was donated in April 2019, and tourists and Tokyoites alike have been tickling the ivories (for a maximum of five minutes per visitor) ever since. The space has started to draw a crowd on holidays and weekends, so we recommend visiting during a weekday, if possible.
Matsumoto Museum of Art, CENTRAL JAPAN
Now head up to Kusama’s hometown of Matsumoto, a mountain city located in the Nagano Prefecture, to visit the Matsumoto Museum of Art. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you arrive, because the museum’s exterior is decorated with telltale dots, and her riotous “Flowers that Bloom at Midnight” sculpture marks the entrance. Inside, you’ll find many other works by the artist in the permanent collection “The Place for My Soul.” Matsumoto is also known for its beautiful castle and view of the Japanese Alps, so make time to take in the artist’s early influences.
Naoshima, SOUTHERN JAPAN
To fully immerse yourself in art, head to the “art island,” Naoshima, in the Seto Inland Sea. The tiny land mass is home to the work of legends — including Yayoi Kusama. After coming ashore, it will take you no time at all to track down the Kusama’s works Red Pumpkin and its yellow companion Pumpkin. You’ll recognize Pumpkin (pictured above) in particular, as it’s become an emblem for the island and manages to outshine the beach from its spot on the pier.
Kirishima Open-Air Museum, SOUTHERN-MOST JAPAN
Stay outdoors awhile longer at the open-air museum in Yusui in the southern Kagoshima Prefecture. Located in the foothills of Mount Kirishima, the “sculpture park,” or “art forest,” as it’s nicknamed, is a bucolic blend of forest and artistry. The space boasts 23 outdoor works, plus a collection in the museum’s more structured Art Hall. Included in the collection are Kusama’s “Flowers of Shangri-la,” a cheerful floral work representing life, hope and the soul, and “High Heel,” an ode to the happiness of a red high heel.
Towada Art Center, NORTHERN-MOST JAPAN
Located in the northern city Towada, Aomori Prefecture, in the foothills of the Hakkoda Mountains, the Towada Art Center houses the work of a number of famous artists, including one by Yayoi Kusama. The piece, called “Love Forever, Singing in Towada,” is made up of eight sculptures, which include a pumpkin, psychedelic mushrooms, dogs and a young girl. The cheery world is meant to conjure the boundless energy and free spirit of artistic creation.