By Mutsumi Morita / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterThe Roppongi entertainment district in Minato Ward, Tokyo, is transforming itself into an art hub. Last October’s opening of complex665, a commercial building that houses three influential galleries, shows the area is strengthening its offerings for art lovers.
The three-story complex is home to the Tomio Koyama Gallery, Taka Ishii Gallery and ShugoArts. The three galleries handle works by prominent contemporary artists such as Mika Ninagawa, Yoko Ono, Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki, Ilya Kabakov and Yasumasa Morimura.
Across the street, the Piramide Building also houses noteworthy galleries including Ota Fine Arts, Wako Works of Art and Zen Foto Gallery. Galerie Perrotin, with which Takashi Murakami is associated, is scheduled to move into Piramide this year. The French gallery already has bases in Paris, New York, Hong Kong and Seoul.
The concentration of galleries in the district is expected to make it a leading venue for contemporary art.
Complex665 came about after the developer, Mori Building Co., invited well-known galleries to move into the building with the offer of letting the galleries dictate what they wanted in the facility.
Tomio Koyama, who moved his gallery from the Kitasando district in Shibuya Ward of Tokyo, pointed to Roppongi’s convenient location as a reason for expecting a larger number of visitors. “We hope to boost the image of Roppongi as an art district with us relocating here,” Koyama said.
“Roppongi has added a new dimension as an attractive area to visit during the daytime, rather than just a nightlife entertainment district,” said Fumio Nanjo, director of Mori Art Museum in Roppongi. It was Mori Art Museum — founded in 2003 on the 53rd floor of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, part of a Mori Building redevelopment project — that became the leading force for giving this district the image of an art hub.
From 2007, The National Art Center, Tokyo, the Suntory Museum of Art and 21_21 Design Sight followed suit. The openings made Roppongi the place to see not only contemporary art, but also famed works of Western art and Japanese traditional art and design, broadening the variety of art on offer.
The art institutions and local shopping districts have jointly held the “Roppongi Art Night” event almost every year since 2009, bringing in about 700,000 visitors on each occasion.
Perhaps due to the art offerings, the number of foreign visitors more than doubled from 2006 to 2008. A Japan National Tourism Organization survey on areas that foreign tourists visited in Japan showed 15.9 percent included Roppongi in their visits in 2008, up from 7.9 percent in fiscal 2006.
One of the main beneficiaries has been the Suntory Museum of Art, which moved to Roppongi from the Akasaka-Mitsuke area of the same ward. In the last 10 years through last October, approximately 4.3 million people have visited, almost tripling the comparable figure before its relocation.
Ueno, in Taito Ward, Tokyo, is the traditional spot for art lovers as a number of major museums such as the Tokyo National Museum and Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum are based there. Now they have competition.
“Roppongi is becoming an art spot comparable to the Ueno district,” said Tetsuji Katsuta, executive general manager of the Suntory Museum.
“If people in Japan and around the world recognize the district as a must-visit place to discover the Asian art of today, it will be a key to help the area prepare for more tourists during the 2020 Tokyo Games,” Nanjo said.Speech