Tips for first-timers to Roppongi Art Night in Tokyo
What is it?
Roppongi Art Night is an annual event which sees Tokyo’s most popular nightlife district transformed into an immersive gallery. Around 80 installations and live performances are scattered across Roppongi, making it feel much like a scavenger hunt for interactive art. Outdoor and indoor spaces display works of artists from the world over, many of which have been featured at art festivals in cities globally.
2019’s main artist, Choi Jeong Hwa from South Korea, had four installations featured, expressing his message of, ‘everything that fills the world dazzles us simply through their existence’. His work often uses mundane objects to create unique works that shine and inspire.
Although officially titled ‘Art Night’, the event spans a weekend and opens many of its installations to the public from 10am on the Saturday until 6pm on the Sunday. This year’s event was held on the last weekend of May, but this is subject to change.
You can check the times of special activities and performances via the event website prior to heading down there or you can easily get a guide book as handed out by staff members upon arrival at the event in Roppongi.
Everyone’s in high spirits. There’s a lot of oohing and ahhing going on. People generally delight in looking at beautiful and odd things, like an enormous red rubbery ball wedged between serious urban structures. It’s just a squeeze and shuffle to get a glimpse of the good stuff.
I was fortunate enough to have blue skies and 30-degree heat, but since most of the event is outside, I imagine it’s quite miserable in the rain. If it’s hot though, it can get sweaty waiting in queues to participate in some of the personal art experiences. One woman waited an hour and 45 minutes to get a smiley-face caricature on a plastic bag…
That depends on whether you’re a stickler to see and do everything. In 6 hours, I managed to see around 15 works of art and a couple of performances, but I was pretty exhausted after that. You could easily spend the whole two days looking at everything on offer, but I’d say three or four hours is adequate to see the main works and other bits along the way. If there’s a specific performance you want to see, get there early. I was quietly bitter about the speaker blocking my view of ‘Sounds of Giant Toys’.
Most of the art is best viewed at night, but the crowds are thick until midnight. I would recommend going later but unfortunately as last trains in Tokyo are around that time, the situation isn’t ideal.
Ease of Navigation
Most of the art is centred in and around Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown, which are comfortably about a 10-minute walk from one another.
There are installations and 3D-works of art dotted everywhere in these areas, so chances are if you spend a little while wandering between them, you’ll stumble across everything you wanted to see as well as discover hidden gems.
If you arrive in Roppongi by train, you’ll cross staff handing out guide books as soon as you step into the street. These detail the line-up, times and maps of the different areas. Fortunately, they have an English book (a treat in Japan) but after having sneaked a peaked at the Japanese guide, it’s clear the English one is light on detail. Still, good enough.
English Information available
Most installations and pieces on exhibition have an information plaque in Japanese and in English, but the art in the café only has Japanese explanations. Although there is an information kiosk outside Roppongi Station, the staff speak little English, so you’ll just have to rely on your wits at times to figure things out.
Should you go in 2020?
It’s interesting way to spend a day or night for sure. There’s a lot to see and keep you amused for a fair few hours. Most of the artists featured are Japanese, so it’s a unique experience to see and learn about Japanese modern art. The only thing you might tire of is the crowds, but hey, it’s Tokyo.
Featured art/artists photos:
‘Fruit Tree’ Choi Jeong Hwa / ‘Life, Life’ Choi Jeong Hwa / ‘RedBall Project’ Kurt Pershiky / ‘The Rainbow in the Dark’ Qi Wei Choan / ‘People to be covered’ Hirozaku Shimo / ‘Stone Cloud’ Andrew Binkey / ‘Desire and Treat’ Cedrick Le Bourne / ‘Ohimasu’ Nishihara / ‘Spin a Memories’ VIKI / ‘Circulation’ Yasuaki Onishi / ‘Full Moon Effect’ Tanaka Masato / ‘Sound of Giant Toys’ Oreka / ‘Stocker’ Estel / ‘Smiley Bag Portrait’ Nobu Aozaki