Karuizawa is home to a good number of art museums, some of them out of the way, some of them just way out (man). One of the more accessible, both to get to and to get into, is the Wakita Museum of Art, opened in 1991 to showcase the work of Japanese painter Kazu Wakita. His paintings are pleasing on the eye, and the relaxed atmosphere will make a visit here a soothing experience for everyone, art enthusiasts and casual visitors alike.
About ten minutes' walk north of Karuizawa station, the museum is on a leafy avenue just off the main road, and as I walked in past the front desk I was gently impressed by the soft lighting and airy design. The first floor is a single low-ceilinged space divided by a couple of slowly curving walls with paintings hanging on them, most of them semi-abstracts in soft pastel shades, possessed of a mellow allure which rewards a second or third languorous stroll round.
There are a good number of paintings to see here, but the walls aren't at all cluttered, and the use of space serves to show off the art to best effect. In a quirkily thoughtful touch, there are even a couple of small canvases in the toilets, which are behind a beautiful fourteen-foot-long mural that isn't really done justice by the cramped space it's located in.
The second floor is markedly different from the first; it's a larger, undivided space, with a higher ceiling, brighter light, and longer walls that accommodate some larger paintings than those downstairs. There are also some couches to sink into for a rest and a browse of the catalogue, and a wider range of artworks: as well as the paintings you'll find here a couple of interesting models of the museum, a few off-beat sculptures, and a pair of angular metal chairs that are more comfortable to sit on than they look.
A passage from the second floor brings you to the souvenir shop and café, where you can buy postcards or prints of Wakita's paintings and other knick-knacks, then admire them over a coffee or a pastry. You can do this inside the café itself, or outside in the pleasant, shady garden between the shop and the back entrance to the first floor, which makes a nice, suitably relaxed place to round off your visit.
Like many of the museums in Karuizawa, this one closes for winter. It's open from the middle of April until the end of November only.