Museum in the woods

The museum, once located in the city of Tokyo, has been reborn in a forest 150 kilometers away and is now a museum dedicated to contemporary art.

The Main Gate of Sezon Museum of Modern ArtSezon Museum of Modern Art

Museum in the woods

Sezon Museum of Modern Art is located in Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture, one of Japan’s popular resort areas. Ever since a Canadian missionary built a summer home in the Meiji era, Karuizawa has developed, first as a popular summer resort for people of high society, including members of Imperial family, politicians, and business leaders, and then as a favorite destination for a number of intellectuals and artists. Yasujiro Tsutsumi, the founder of Seibu Group, whose business spans from railway transportation to hotel, made important contributions to the growth of Karuizawa as a popular resort where fun of appreciating Western art and culture is provided for visitors. Takanawa Art Museum, the predecessor of Sezon Museum of Modern Art, was established by Yasujiro Tsutsumi.

Exterior of Takanawa Art Museum in TokyoSezon Museum of Modern Art

Takanawa Art Museum

Before its opening in Karuizawa in 1981, Sezon Museum of Modern Art operated under the name of Takanawa Art Museum Foundation on the premises of Shinagawa Prince Hotel in Tokyo.

Installation view at Takanawa Art MuseumSezon Museum of Modern Art

Takanawa Art Museum opened in November 1962 in Takanawa, Tokyo to show Yasujiro’s collection, including paintings, Buddha statutes, Maki-e or gold-sprinkled lacquerware, old Oriental ceramics, to the public. Takanawa Art Museum operated until its relocation to Karuizawa in July 1981.

Entrance of Seibu Museum of ArtSezon Museum of Modern Art

Department store museum, Seibu Museum/Sezon Museum

It was Seiji Tsutsumi, the founder of Saison Group and also known by the pen name Takashi Tsujii for career as writer and poet, who decided to relocate Takanawa Art Museum and to shift from a museum showing traditional Japanese art to a lively museum for contemporary art. When Seiji Tsutsumi became the president of Seibu Department Stores in 1961, Ikebukuro Seibu Department Store organized an exhibition of Paul Klee, about whom little was known in Japan at that time. The exhibition improved relations between commercial facilities like department store and art exhibition. Ikebukuro Seibu Department Stores continued introducing overseas contemporary art and held Art of Jean Cocteau (1962) and Drawings of Arshile Gorky  (1963). As a permanent space for such activities, Seibu Museum (renamed Sezon Museum in 1989) opened at Ikebukuro Seibu Department Store in 1975.

Entrance of Sezon Museum of ArtSezon Museum of Modern Art

The show to celebrate the opening of Seibu Museum, The View of Japanese Contemporary Art, exhibited 117 works in painting, sculpture, graphic art, and video of 27 artists representing the Japanese art scene at that time, including Shusaku Arakawa, Keiji Usami, Ushio Shinohara, Natsuyuki Nakanishi, and Tadanori Yokoo. More than 20 artists in the show now form the foundation of Sezon Museum of Modern Art’s collection. While Seibu Museum and Takanawa Art Museum co-organized shows at Seibu Museum, works of overseas artists who had a solo show in Seibu Museum, such as Jasper Johns, Pierre Soulages, Yves Klein, Anselm Kiefer, and Francesco Clemente, were eventually added to the collection of Takanawa Art Museum. After organizing about 260 shows for a quarter of a century from 1975, Seibu Museum was closed in February 1999

The Main Gate of The Museum of Modern Art, Seibu TakanawaSezon Museum of Modern Art

The Museum of Modern Art, Seibu Takanawa 

Seeking to have a place for experimental creation of the contemporaries, Takanawa Art Museum moved to Karuizawa in 1981 to focus on contemporary art and to engage in diverse activities flexibly. On the 10th anniversary in 1991, the museum restarted as a museum in the contemporary world by renaming itself to represent the founding philosophy and the core of its operation principle, contemporary art (“modern art” is used for English). Now the museum annually organizes two exhibitions by setting a theme for each exhibition and shows its collection to the public. 

The museum started its activities in Karuizawa with an exhibition for Marcel Duchamp in August 1981. The opening of the museum was celebrated with the reception with attendance of several guests, including Mrs. Duchamp and John Cage.


Today, under the leadership of president Takao Tsutsumi, Sezon Museum of Modern Art practices art activities with “coexistence with nature” as its key concept. The museum designed by architect Kiyonori Kikutake and its garden primarily planned by sculptor Isamu Wakabayashi are enveloped in nature and keep fascinating visitors.

Credits: Story


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