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Cool and cultured: 5 arty Tokyo chill-outs
No more seasonal excuses, as we highlight the best of the capital's cooling culture spots
We’ve said it before -- there’s no escaping the fact that a Tokyo summer can be HOT.
Weeks of 35 C and above, saturation humidity and slump-under-the-energy-hungry air-con hot.
But we can’t sit by the cooler all summer, especially if there isn’t the juice to go round. Power outages are a real concern again in this second post-Fukushima summer.
With that in mind, we heartily recommend boosting your culture quotient while chilling out at these galleries, museums and art exhibits, all guaranteed to frame summer in an entirely more-favorable -- and more comfortable -- light.
21_21 Design Sight
“Tokyo Midtown Loves Summer,” say the promotional posters this year. But there’s more than that to the swanky Tokyo shopping district.
In fact, Midtown has established itself as a year-round attraction in its five years of existence. Christmas illumination events, design festivals and art exhibitions are regularly held in and around its stores, halls and grounds.
At one edge of its park is the curiously named 21_21 Design Sight, a gallery with a revolving roster of contemporary arts and culture.
Built mostly below ground in cooling Tadao Ando concrete (yes, it’s another Ando building, the concrete master of Japan), 21_21 is a modern gallery worth an afternoon of anyone’s time, while the park that surrounds both it and the rest of Midtown provides an added summer attraction.
A mere couple of hundred meters from Roppongi crossing, you can walk on grass, be next to running water, relax in terrace cafés and, more than likely, catch one of the regularly organized outdoor events like the current Tohoku art exhibition.
21_21 Design Sight, 9-7-6 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo, +81 (0) 3 3475 2121; open 11 a.m.-8 p.m., closed Tuesday and holidays; www.2121designsight.jp
More on CNN: 5 cool Tokyo summer oases
Fuchu Art Museum
Unlike the bang-in-the-center 21_21, Fuchu Art Museum is well out of deepest Tokyo, although it’s still far from inaccessible, at 30 minutes from Shibuya.
It’s in the bustling suburb of Fuchu and includes plenty of green space, regular events, art demonstrations and an outdoor café.
While the menu at the café could do with a little more imagination to match the museum’s contents, the upside is that it’s inside Fuchu no Mori Koen (Fuchu Forest Park).
That means visitors can enjoy the shade of trees and the sounds of summer in the city.
For many, the long hot season necessitates finding things for kids to do, so the wide-open spaces of Fuchu no Mori Koen are one attraction, but the Art Museum itself is also child-friendly.
Nowhere mentioned here is not, of course, but Fuchu often has specifically child-oriented elements in the exhibitions themselves.
So, that could mean killing three birds with one stone -- culture for the adults, culture for the children and summer sun and cooling trees in the park.
Fuchu Art Museum, Sengen-cho 1-3, Fuchu-shi, Tokyo, +81 (0) 42 336 3371; open 10 a.m.-5 p.m., closed Monday, the day after a public holiday and at New Year; www.city.fuchu.tokyo.jp
Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum
Although in impressive grounds and associated with the major Edo-Tokyo Museum in central Tokyo, this is a surprisingly undersold option for culture vultures.
Out to the west of the capital on the Chuo line (but only 30 minutes or so from Shinjuku) it features a range of historical, mostly Meiji-era, Japanese buildings.
These have either been recreated in the park or moved from their original sites and reassembled here.
Buildings range from traditional homes (some of notable inhabitants) to a traditional sento public bath and even a koban, or police box, complete with a bedroom for sleepy Edo cops.
At Edo-Tokyo, you get compact access to Japan’s renowned architectural legacy with the benefit of a lot of cooling greenery all around.
Tokyo is an ever-changing, always-rebuilding city, so while you might come across similar relics still dotted around different districts, the smart option is to treat yourself to a single collection without the need to pound the broiling streets in search of history.
Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum, 3-7-1 Sakuracho, Koganei, Tokyo, +81 (0) 42 388 3300; open April-September 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m., October-March 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., closed Monday, the day after a public holiday and at New Year; tatemonoen.jp
More on CNN: Tokyo's traditional summer tonic
One theory of traditional Japanese architecture concerns its intention to blur the divide between building and garden, interior and exterior. The recently reformed (2009) and rebuilt Nezu Museum’s main building gives a modern nod toward this.
On entering its dark, air-conditioned interior, the outside garden is visible through huge floor-to-ceiling windows that clearly smudge a few lines.
In fact, it can still be seen even from the second floor, where dark, semi-opaque blinds help keep the inside darkened while still allowing a glimpse of the garden.
We went on one of the hottest days of summer, when the museum displays included the paraphernalia of the tea ceremony, complete with explanations of its cooling intent.
But even on such days, the extensive grounds of the museum are a pleasure. The bulk of the garden is tree-shaded with meandering, moss-lined paths.
There’s also a pond, traditional buildings and outdoor pieces, such as classic stone lamps and sculptures.
A polite sign warns you to move away from the sculptures in the event of an earthquake.
And even if the heat is too much -- more likely, the ubiquitous calf-worrying mosquitoes of summer -- there’s a relaxing modern café with picture windows on three sides amid the woodland.
Nezu Museum, 6-5-1 Minami-Aoyama, Minato-ku, +81 (0) 3 3400 2536; open 10 a.m.-5 p.m., closed Monday, the day after a public holiday and at New Year; www.nezu-muse.or.jp
Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum
While the Nezu Museum is a genuine cultural oasis -- the nearby Omotesando shops, restaurants and ubiquitous brands are completely left behind -- the Ichigokan Square, where the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum is located, features a more urban outside space with a different intent.
The square, whose garden is also visible from inside the museum, is designed as a small oasis of urban relaxing rather than an oasis from the urban. A subtle difference.
The central green of the square is surrounded by eateries that all do takeaway perfect for an impromptu picnic on a hot summer day.
Better yet, the paving is designed to retain water and to have a surface temperature 10-20 C cooler than ordinary asphalt.
To experience its cooling power, it’s fun to find an outside table or just sit and snack on one of various low walls around the square.
The Museum is a recent reconstruction (again, 2009) of one of the first Western-style brick offices in the Marunouchi area.
Exhibits focus on Western art, although a recent show was on Japanese paper cutting and how it influenced Western art.
The interior spans several floors via corridors that follow the plan of the original 1894 building.
The carefully planned interior and square mean visitors to the Ichigokan can stay cultured, stay refreshed and, most importantly in this, the most overbearing of seasons, stay cool.
Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, 2-6-2 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, +81 (0) 3 5405 8686 (English available); open Thursday-Saturday 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday and public holidays 10 a.m.-6 p.m., closed Monday, the day after a public holiday and at New Year; mimt.jp
More on CNN: Snapshots of Japan’s blistering summer