On a visit to Matsumoto one time, I took a day trip out into the countryside of Azumino, to enjoy the scenery and fresh air. After visiting the Rokuzan Museum and Daio Wasabi Farm, I still had much of the afternoon left; a look at the map showed that I could get to an art museum and, despite my knowing nothing about it, I made my way there. I'm glad I made the decision and effort, because I found it absolutely delightful.
The museum is on a quiet road flanked largely by flooded fields of wasabi and rice, a charming, idyllic setting. The main building is a low, sleek modern structure, with a long, shallow pond along the front, helping it fit into the landscape around. It's dedicated to the art of Takahashi Setsuro (don't worry, I'd never heard of him either): a native of the area, he specialised in lacquer paintings, sometimes incorporating gold leaf, gold powder, or mother-of-pearl.
There were some smaller ink paintings on display, but it was the large lacquer ones that made a strong impression on me, the gold bright against deep, plain black backgrounds. Many of his paintings are semi-abstract: heavily stylized landscapes and still lives, square roundel stars and feather-like clouds in the night sky, an owl flying at the viewer. I found them really captivatingly beautiful, and I sat happily admiring them right up until closing time.
As well as the museum you can visit Takahashi's former home, situated in a pleasant garden to the rear of the main building. Originally constructed in 1903, the residence and warehouse have been restored to as they were when Takahashi lived there: as well as showing us how people lived at the time, you can see displays of paintings and sculpture by local artists.
If you're interested in trying your hand at lacquer painting, the museum offers a walk-in course for just JPY1100. You etch a design onto a small lacquer board then decorate it by hand yourself, with prepared designs available for beginners. I didn't have time myself - it takes an hour or two, starting no later than 3:00pm - but it seems like an interesting experience that also provides a unique souvenir. I made do with a print and postcard from the small shop that sells reproductions of Takahashi's paintings.
The museum is open daily except Monday, from 9:00am to 5:00pm, with a week-long closure over New Year. If a national holiday falls on a Monday, as they often do, the museum is open on the Monday and closed on the Tuesday. Admission costs JPY400, with discounts for large groups and high school or university students, and free entrance for junior high school students or younger.
It's ten or fifteen minutes' walk from Ariake station on the JR Oito line, about thirty minutes from Matsumoto.
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I came to Japan from Manchester, England in summer 2003, and have travelled a lot since then, around Japan and in Asia. When I`m not working I write satire at www.iothern.blogspot.com and perform stand-up comedy in and around Tokyo. Check my youtube channel `CunningPunster` for a taste.