Roppongi Art Night

The streets of Roppongi conjure up images of sleaze and shopping, art museums and international banks. One Saturday night the whole area came alive with some very fun, very strange public art…

poster for

"Roppongi Art Night"

at Roppongi Hills Arena
in the Roppongi, Nogizaka area
This event has ended - (2009-03-28 - 2009-03-29)

In Photo Reports by William Andrews 2009-04-02

On the rare occasions I venture into Roppongi it always confirms what I think about the place. It’s full of rich people shopping and ayashii foreigners with girl(s) in tow. It’s a place of cold, pristine department stores, contrasted with glaring, depressing ‘gentlemen’s clubs’. Somewhere in this mess you get the Blue Man Group, the Mori building, a large spider sculpture…and Super Deluxe.

So, I was a little cynical about Roppongi Art Night. Would it just be a cheesy corporate event? Would it just be ignored by folks heading to night clubs? Indeed, the critics would be quick to point out that the art works haphazardly on display were meaningless, that more thought had gone into how best to achieve a light effect than in creating an interesting art work. The whole thing was simply a series of keitai snap-shot opportunities for youngsters on dates.

Well, perhaps they would be right. But for me it did not wholly detract from the enormous, positive energy I felt navigating the Mori complex and stumbling upon weird goodies. All the works were exciting, visually arresting (and yes, achieved for the most part by light effects). The overall idea seemed to be to make as strange a playground as possible and to put things in unlikely spots, to do things you didn’t think possible.

The park behind the Mori Hills was shimmering in mist. A massive robot towered over pedestrians. A zoo had invaded a plaza. The Roppongi Crossing highway was lit up. White boxes contained surprises. Images danced on the floor.

The army of uniformed staff and the posters and maps were all very helpful, though it did seem to generate an atmosphere akin to a conference at times, and I kept thinking wouldn’t it more fun without any guidance, to round a corner and find something by surprise?

These quibbles aside, I liked Roppongi Art Night. With its talks, performances, and sculptures it offered something for most tastes. And it all did what public art should always do: it created a reaction.

A large polystyrene structure glowed in the night. The 'tea house' of Yoshiaki Kaihatsu's 'Foam Garden in the Forest'.
The installation was composed of lots of buildings and furniture. Some of the use of the materials was ingenious.
People peered in but the tea house seemed empty.
However, people were reticient to make full use of the installation at first.
There were also plenty of creatures lurking around, some of them too big for keitai snaps.Du Zhenjun's 'I Erase Your Trace' was highly interactive.

Images of naked figures flashed up on the ground.
Takahiro Fujiwara's 'into the blue' was a large hanging balloon that rotated.
Back at the polystyrene installations, people were getting into the spirit of the event.Strange creatures feasted on the shrubbery.

And now someone was inside the tea house. Anyone, for a small fee, could enter and partake of refreshments with the sensei.
Fujiko Nakaya's 'Fog Garden #47662' was just that: the Mori garden was shrouded in a beguiling mist.
Kenji Yanobe's 'Giant Torayan' stood at over seven metres.
The giant had some little friends to keep him company.Those familiar with Yanobe's work will surely recognize these characters.

There was a matsuri-like atmosphere, with a plethora of stalls and eateries.
The talk events and video screenings drew crowds.
People were milling around some other installations at the Mori Tower.

It was the Art Cubes, a series of illuminated boxes, each containing a weird and wonderful show.

People were bemused by this Art Cube at Midtown.

You even encountered Art Cubes on the street.

William Andrews

William Andrews. William Andrews came to Japan in 2004. He first lived in Osaka, where he was a translator for Kansai Art Beat. Arriving in Tokyo in 2008, he now works as an writer, editor and translator. He writes a blog about Japanese radicalism and counterculture ( and one about Tokyo contemporary theatre ( He is the author of Dissenting Japan: A History of Japanese Radicalism and Counterculture, from 1945 to Fukushima. » See other writings


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