Photo: Sue Ann Kunath

Gallery TOM (Touch Our Museum)

A gallery for the blind in Shibuya

By Sue Ann Kunath    - 2 min read

Those interested in architecture may have stumbled upon the gallery while browsing through books on modern architecture in Japan. Gallery TOM (Touch our Museum) is small but impressive, designed by Hiroshi Naito and Associates. It is a concrete 3-storey house on a corner of a street in the middle of a quiet residential neighborhood in Shibuya. The building structure shouldn’t be the only reason to take an interest in TOM though. It also houses a private museum where blind and visually impaired people can experience an art exhibition through touching the sculptures and statuaries. The museum was commissioned in 1984 by the director of the gallery Mr. Harue Murayama for his blind son.

The building is amazing, consisting of concrete and glass, through which rays of sunlight come in highlighting different angles of the interior. The museum also houses a small book collection on the newest developments on architecture and art. The books are mainly from France and Italy and are written in braille. The current exhibition (Boku-tachi no Tsukutta Mono – “The things we made”) shows a collection of amazing sculptures made by high school students from various blind schools over the course of 30 years. Where my first reaction is not to touch nor photograph the art pieces, TOM gallery stimulates you to do both. The building space is not very big, with the second and third floors used as gallery spaces.

Don’t be surprised if the gallery staff looks rather puzzled when you come in the door—they are not used to regular people popping in. Either visually impaired people or architects from abroad specifically coming to visit the building structure are known to be the main crowd. A small contribution of 600 yen is requested by the gallery upon entry.

TOM gallery is not your everyday experience of a gallery. Apart from an architectural structure, a private museum, it is foremost a mission by the Murayama family. A mission to realize that “blind people also have a right to see.” So if you are in the neighborhood of Shibuya, head over to the gallery and get to learn more about the gallery itself. It is different, amazing, and admirable work.

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Sue Ann Kunath

Sue Ann Kunath @sue.ann.kunath

In September 2010 I came for the first time to Japan on a look-and-see visit. I didn't know much about the country nor its people, let alone had any clue on what it really meant to live here. One day, after renting bikes and stopping at a construction site, a worker came up to me, smiled, bowed, picked up my bike and carried it to the other side of the road, after which he helped me get on it again. Right there and then, I was sold! Up till now, I am still amazed how friendly Japanese people can be, how lovely this country also is and I look forward to sharing more of these enjoyable experiences with you.

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Larry Knipfing 7 years ago
What a great find, Sue Ann.