Although Japan isn’t renowned around the world for its art scene, modern and contemporary art in Japan is just as fascinating and varied as its culture. And for a delicious taste of that contemporary art, you need look no further than the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo.

Located on the top floors of the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills, the Mori Art Museum hosts a rotating calendar of contemporary art from around the world.

On display at the Mori

As of January 22, 2018, several fascinating exhibits, including one by world-renowned Argentinian artist Leandro Erlich. “From massive installations to videos, Erlich’s works utilize optical illusions and sound effects to shake up our notions of common sense,” the museum’s website writes of the exhibition. “Leandro Erlich: Seeing and Believing” covers the 25 years of Erlich’s career to date, and brings a fascinating take on contemporary art in Japan.

“MAM Collection OO6” showcases work by Handiwirman Saputra and Chiba Masaya, who use a diverse range of materials and techniques—particularly sculpture and painting. Indonesian-born Saputra and Japanese artist Chiba focus their work on the differences in gaze and approach between the two artists, as well as what they have in common.

Japanese filmmaker Yamamoto Atsushi’s early short films, along with a more recent full-length film are also on display at the Mori. The museum has combined Yamamoto’s earlier and later works to offer a close-up look at the artist’s entire oeuvre.

New Zealand artist Dane Mitchell’s new work “Iris, Iris, Iris,” the product of multifaceted research during a recent stay in Japan, brings together the concept of scent as a piece of Japanese history and culture, and scent as a scientific element, to stimulate perceptions and sensibilities, to influence his own art works.

But what’s this about toilets?

Contemporary art in Japan goes far beyond the walls of a traditional museum environment, and the disaster that struck the nation after the tsunami and earthquake on March 11, 2011, was the inspiration for an odd but intriguing product.

After the disaster, as plumbing firm Taikou Juken Corp. went rushing around trying to repair toilets in restroom of evacuation shelters, only to find that conditions became barbaric (in ways we need not mention here) within just a few days of the toilets being rendered usable.

In response to the growing negative sentiment about public toilets, Taikou Juken CEO Koji Akama was struck by the idea of turning a simple convenience into art, in order to make restrooms more pleasant places to be. He also figured that by “artifying” toilets, he would encourage people to behave well in public bathrooms.

It took Akama and Taikou Juken three years to develop a special sheet product that would allow art works to fit on three-dimensional objects, but would also have the durability to withstand repeated scrubbing.

Now going under the name Artoletta (which combines “art” with “tolettta,” the Italian word for toilet), the product has found itself winning design competitions in Italy and Japan. And a toilet bowl decorated with Toshusai Sharaku’s ukiyo-e work earned Akama a place among the 50 “top creators” selected by Tokyo Design Week in 2016.

Ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, Akama has been pitching Artoletta to hotels patronized by non-Japanese guests and to department stores. So, if you’re in Tokyo in 2020, you may well find yourself sitting on an Artoletta.

Photo: Visitors at the Mori Art Museum. Credit: witaya ratanasirikulchai /