Aida Makoto's Uguisudani-zu, 1990

Introducing some of Japan’s most famous artists to a hungry Western audience, Ninagawa Miko‘s bright pink Japanese blossom kicks off the brave, bold and unapologetic world of Tokyo Art & Photography which opens at The Ashmolean this week.

It is a heady and dizzy experience that resists the lure of chronology, preferring a thematic approach to introduce us to the dazzling world of Japanese culture seen through this collection of paintings, collages, photographs, video, film, print and montage.

Tokyo (c) Ninagawa Mika

Contemporary Japanese street artist Enrico Isamu‘s new finite work FFIGURATI is scrawled across the walls, framed by photographic collections of Japan’s numerous love hotels, Tokyo by night, artists cleaning pavements, a prostitute card collage. Homeless cardboard houses sit next to surrealist paintings by the great Yamashita Kikuji, and a vibrant collection of pop art.

Enrico Isamu’s latest work FFIGURATI on the walls of The Ashmolean will be destroyed after the exhibition

The Ashmolean’s latest exhibition is exciting, honest and contemporary, delving into the very psyche of the Japanese and their dynamic cultural world

Amidst the neon, contemporary, technologically advanced modern art and its fashion-forward outlook sit maps of destruction, paintings and photos of earthquakes, war, desolation and poverty – Tokyo’s constant reinvention is celebrated from every angle.

Nishino Sohei’s Diorama Map Tokyo

From the gaudy glitz of modern day culture to its seedier side, the city’s inescapable reemergence as a phoenix rising from the ashes applies over and over again, the resilience of the Japanese palpable.

Onchi Koshiiro -Tokyo Station 1945

Welcome to Tokyo Art & Photography which envelops you in a strange, exciting Asian hug as soon as you arrive. The Ashmolean’s latest exhibition, curated by Dr Lena Fritsch and Dr Clare Pollard, delves into the very psyche of the Japanese and their dynamic cultural world.

Yokoo Todanori’s Hosco Eikoh

Or as Mallica Kumbera Landrus, Keeper of Eastern Art and Curator of Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art at The Ashmolean put it: “We are celebrating one of the world’s most fascinating cultures through one of its most dynamic and fascinating cities – Tokyo – and its repeated destruction and renewal. We think this exhibition is a an energising and exciting experience. We hope you agree.”

Machida Kumi Three Persons 2003

Tokyo Art & Photography is certainly timely, not only capitalising on the current Olympics, but also the huge surge of interest in Japanese culture and our nostalgia for far-flung foreign travel.

Utagowa Hiroshige Sudden Shower at Ohashi Bridge 1857

But what emerges is far more than that – a fascinating insight into not only Japan’s cultural past, but its meteoric future.

An incredible achievement in this pandemic ridden times, Tokyo Art & Photography is a refreshing and impressive reminder that The Ashmolean may be famous for its historic exhibits, but is also looking forward to the future and all its possibilities.

Tokyo Rumando photographed herself in Tokyo’s love hotels

Tokyo Art & Photography is a must see exhibition that awes and educates in equal measure.

Katherine MacAlister

Tokyo Art & Photography runs from July 29-January 3. Booking is essential. Go to