Like a gigantic iceberg looming over the back streets between Nogizaka and Roppongi Stations sits The National Art Center, Tokyo.
Home to 12 gallery spaces, this museum has no permanent exhibits, so no matter how many times you visit, you’re always going to see something new. Access to the National Art Center Tokyo is generally free, but some special exhibits may require tickets.
Designed by renowned architect Kisho Kurokawa, the stylishly minimalistic gallery has 14,000 square meters of exhibition space, making it one of the country’s biggest. In addition to galleries, you’ll also find a gift store, plenty of public seating, and a cafe that some of you eagle-eyed anime fans may recognize from the hit 2016 anime film Your Name (君の名は Kimi no Na wa).
Entry fees and exhibits
As you enter the museum grounds, you’ll notice the prominent ticket booth to the right. Entry to the museum itself is free, but the booth sells exhibition tickets, which are needed only for the ‘special exhibitions’ of which there are always one or two occupying the galleries on the ground floor of the complex.
The paid exhibits are often blockbuster-style events covering all facets of the art world, from European classics to explorations of Japanese manga. The price of entry varies but generally sits around the ¥1,200–¥1,600 range for adults.
The gallery also often hosts Artist Associations’ Exhibitions; these take up a lot of real estate within the space. These exhibits are run by art organizations—for example, the Japan Watercolor Federation—and entry is typically ¥700 for adults. Often there are anywhere between one and four of these exhibits happening at the one time.
Depending on the day, there are free shows too. If you want to know what’s showing for free, enquire at the information desk on the ground floor when you arrive, or ask at the ticket booth.
If you present a ticket from an artist association’s exhibition currently happening at the National Art Center, guests are eligible for a discount for an ongoing special exhibition.
As part of the “Art Triangle Roppongi” initiative, there’s a thing called an ATRo Saving discount system. If you show an entrance ticket stub of an ongoing exhibition at Suntory Museum of Art or Mori Art Museum, you’re entitled to a reduced entry price (¥200 off) at The National Art Center.
The atrium: cafes and shops
As you enter the gallery, the first space you’ll come across is the atrium, where you’ll find the museum shop named Souvenir From Tokyo. This shop stocks a wide range of artistic gift ideas and souvenirs and also has its very own tiny gallery, the SFT Gallery.
A restaurant occupies each of the four floors of the gallery. Brasserie Paul Bocuse Le Musée on the third floor is a French restaurant spearheaded by celebrity chef Paul Bocuse. It’s open for lunch (11 am until 4 pm) and dinner (4 pm until 9 pm). On the second floor sits Salon de Thé Rond, which serves coffee, cakes, tea, and wine, from 11 am until 6 pm daily and until 7 pm on Fridays.
On the first floor, you’ll find Café Coquille (opens at 10 am) and on the basement Cafétéria Carré (opens at 11 am). Both offer smaller lunch-style snacks, coffee and cakes and they stay open until 6 pm. There’s also a free relaxation area with designer chairs on the basement level and entrance to the ‘Art Library’ on the third floor, where you can take a load off.
What’s near The National Art Center?
There are so many free things to do in Roppongi: temple hopping, garden exploring, and plenty of window shopping. The area is also full of cheap bars.
You can turn a visit The National Art Center Tokyo into a Roppongi art day adventure, with other big-name galleries like 21_21 Design Sight and Mori Art Museum in relative walking distance. There’s also a shopping and entertainment complex Roppongi Midtown, which regularly hosts free public seasonal events, including Christmas illuminations, and cherry blossoms in spring, as well as paid events like the Midtown Ice Rink that kicks off just after Christmas.
Language and Accessibility
Language: Most signage and booklets are bilingual Japanese and English, and some staff will be able to assist you with inquiries about the gallery in English.
Accessibility: The gallery is wheelchair accessible and suitable for those with mobility challenges. It has automatic doors, disability parking, ostomate restrooms, a wheelchair ramp, wheelchair-accessible elevator and bathrooms, and loan chairs too.