Visual Art is a very diverse practice. While the visual art industry and the visual art market has been dominated by the West, it is high time that the focus shifts to underrepresented parts of the world. Japan is home to several art schools that you may not have heard of but are certainly worthy of acclaim.

A university’s location plays a big part when choosing an art school. Different places generate specific cultures and their own art circles, which has a great impact on how art students will learn outside of their classes. As such, it’s difficult to make a definitive ranking of art schools. Each school will have its own specialties and culture, which will work best for certain types of students. In this article, we round up some of the “best” art schools in Japan and where they are located. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are some of the institutions that are certainly worth looking into.

Before we dive into the list of art schools in each region, here are a few tips and reminders about finding art courses in Japan: 

  1. Always double-check with the specific departments to know if the courses and the degree programs are offered all in English. If not, check what level of Japanese language proficiency is required for admission. 
  2. Browse the university’s main Japanese language website. Most university websites have a dedicated English site separate from the main website. Usually, the main website is more robust than the English website, so try to navigate the main website and use browser extensions (such as the Google Translate Chrome extension) to translate the Japanese language content into English.
  3. Finally, if you cannot find information about international students entering specific courses that you are interested in, look for the university’s “international student affairs” division or an equivalent. Don’t hesitate to send them an email. Sometimes, international art students just don’t know that there are programs and courses in Japan that they can take because these kinds of information are not always easy to find.

Without further ado, let us virtually travel through the “best” art schools in various regions of Japan!

Tokyo

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

The bustling metropolis became the country’s capital in 1868 during the Meiji Era, which is known as the period when Japan went through rapid industrialization and modernization. Now, Tokyo is a global city center which houses Japan’s central financial districts, major universities, and other industries. The megacity is home to some of the most prominent and popular art museums in Asia, such as the Mori Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, and the Yayoi Kusama Museum, to name just a few. Moreover, small artist-run spaces and galleries are all over the city. Once you get a grip of the sprawling city, there are certainly many pockets where artists gather, make, and present their works. Studying in an art university in Tokyo also means gaining access to what the city has to offer.

Yayoi Kusama Museum Photo by Raquel Moss on Unsplash

Tokyo University of the Arts

Photo embedded from http://gap.geidai.ac.jp/corner83/2018/photo_gallery_en.html

Tokyo University of the Arts or 東京藝術大学 is the only national arts university in Japan. It was established in 1887 as The Tokyo Fine Arts School and Tokyo Music School, which were then merged into one school in 1949. The university has campuses in Ueno and Senju in Tokyo, as well as in Yokohama (Kanagawa Prefecture) and in Toride (Ibaraki Prefecture). The university includes the following faculties: Fine Arts, Music, Film and New Media, and Global Arts. The Faculty of Fine Arts include majors in Painting, Sculpture, Crafts, Design, Architecture, Intermedia Art, Aesthetics and Art History, and even special graduate courses like Woodworking, Glass, Art and Education, Artistic Anatomy, Conservation, and Global Art Practice. 

The Global Art Practice course offers a particularly interesting curriculum that includes joint projects with other universities abroad, such as the University of the Arts London, Central Saint Martins and École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Paris. 

From the Global Art Practice website:

Global Art Practice was established in April of 2016, as part of the Graduate School of Fine Arts at Tokyo University of the Arts (TUA). GAP aims to develop research and human resources with a global focus on social practice in contemporary art, while expanding alternative networks and mutual relationships across borders. With courses taught in English by internationally acclaimed artists and world-class experts, GAP offers a flexibly structured, innovative program, enabling graduate students to fulfill their roles as leading artists and researchers.

Tama Art University

Photo embedded from https://a.tamabi.ac.jp/dept/sd/

Originally founded as Tama Imperial Art School in 1935, Tama Art University is one of the top art schools in Japan. The Faculty of Art and Design offers the following: Japanese Painting; Oil Painting, Printmaking, Sculpture, Ceramic Glass and Metal Works, Graphic Design, Product Design; Environmental Design; Information Design; Art Studies; Integrated Design; and Scenography Design, Drama, and Dance.

Tama Art University is one of the few universities in Japan that offers a course on Scenography Design, Drama, and Dance.

From Tama Art University Website:

The Department of Scenography Design, Drama, and Dance is a department that aims to foster sensitive artists in the realm of bodily expression as a supporting pillar of stage performances, and designers with an ability to create imaginative theatrical spaces. Considering the different roles and respective expertise involved in stage productions, the department is divided into the “Scenography Design Course” and the “Drama and Dance Course”. In both courses, students acquire knowledge related to stage performances while enhancing their expertise and exchanging with each other. Bearing in mind a future vision of aesthetically conscious actors, dancers, stage directors, playwrights and set artists, and regarding stage performances as composite art, the department pursues the realization of highly original stage productions that no-one has ever seen before. Classes focus on thorough training of imaginative expressiveness and creativity with an emphasis on practical work, while raising students’ awareness of the risks involved in being an artist, and the responsibility of future leaders in the realm of culture. Teachers operating as mainstream professionals in their respective fields offer on-the-spot technical guidance in bodily expression methods, performance practice and staff work, training professional artists and future leaders in the performing arts world.

Kyoto (Kansai Prefecture)

Photo by Han Min T on Unsplash

While Tokyo currently serves as Japan’s capital city, many have come to know the former capital, Kyoto, as the country’s cultural center. While Tokyo is an expansive and fast-paced metropolis that is, in fact, comprised of many cities, Kyoto is much smaller, and its pace of life is much slower than that of Tokyo. As such, many artists from different art fields choose to live in Kyoto or in nearby areas. Real estate and the cost of living in Kyoto is also cheaper, and most major places you will need to go to can be traveled using a bicycle. The smaller size of the city means it’s easier to get to know Kyoto. Small shops, performance venues, galleries, bookshops, and other artist-run creative spaces and initiatives are all over the city.

The creative energy of Kyoto is unique in that it is steeped in tradition that can bring forward the avant-garde. For instance, Kyoto is home to Butoh-kan, the only theater in Japan dedicated to the avant-garde form of dance that emerged in the early 1950s. At the same time, Kyoto is also home to as many as 17 UNESCO cultural heritage sites, such as the Kiyomizu-dera Temple, Nijo-jo Castle, and Shimogamo-jinja Shrine.

Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto Photo by Antoine Cantoro on Unsplash

Kyoto University of the Arts:

Photo embedded from https://www.kyoto-art.ac.jp/graduate/configuration/cultural/

Kyoto University of the Arts (京都芸術大学, Kyōto geijutsu daigaku) is a private higher education institution with a history that dates back to 1934. The Faculty of Art and Design covers the fields of fine art, contemporary art, graphic design, animation, manga, film, fashion design, jewelry design, interior design, architecture, landscape architecture, theater, and literature. The university also offers research programs in art production and historical heritage. For international students interested in contemporary art, Kyoto University of the Arts offers a “Global Seminar” program where students are mentored by a host of artists and curators from different parts of the world.

From Kyoto University of the Arts Website:

Since 1990, the contemporary art environment such as the system of art museums, international exhibitions, and galleries, as well as the relationship between world politics, economy, and the art market have rapidly become more complicated around the world. To that end, it is no longer possible to grasp the overall picture. In order to be a top-level artist within this context, it is necessary that students understand the complicated circumstances of contemporary art from a comprehensive and global perspective, while, at the same time, have a deep knowledge of their own cultural context. At the Graduate School “Global Seminar,” we aim to make the most of Kyoto as our location and this special intensive program in a small group, so that students can understand their position from historical and geographical perspectives and become cosmopolitans of a new generation who can speak, have discourse, express, and give presentations on an international stage. At the Global Seminar we are holding special classes with renowned international and domestic guests such as artists who are already participating in top-level international exhibitions and whose work are collected by world-famous museums, leading curators, among others.

Kyoto Seika University

Photo embedded from http://www.kyoto-seika.ac.jp/int/en/new-generation-manga/

A relatively young university, Kyoto Seika University is a great institution for those who want to explore a more progressive type of education. In 2017 the university appointed Oussouby Sacko, a Mali national, as university president. Sacko is the first person of African descent to become president of a university in Japan. SEIKA consists of five faculties—Art, Design, Manga, Popular Culture, and Humanities— and associated Graduate Schools.

Check out this video where Sacko himself talks about the liberal and humanist ideals of Kyoto Seika University, and get a peek inside the university with this campus tour video made by an international student.

Osaka

Osaka is the third-largest city in Japan and is only about an hour away from Kyoto. Being a huge metropolis means that Osaka has a lot of art galleries —from big museums to small artist-run residencies. Art Osaka is one of the biggest art fairs in Japan that focuses on contemporary art. Perhaps more importantly, the culture in Osaka and the Kansai area is quite unique to the region. The Japanese dialect spoken in the Kansai region is often called Osaka-ben. The dialect is livelier than the Japanese spoken in Tokyo. Did we mention that Osaka is also hailed as the food capital of Japan?

Osaka College of Art in Association with Osaka University of Arts

Osaka is the third largest city in Japan and is only about an hour away from Kyoto. Osaka College of Art is a professional training college in association with the Osaka University of the Arts. The Department of General Design is home to the following majors: Digital Design, Graphic Design, Illustration, Product Design, and Interior Design.

Meanwhile, fans of manga and anime should check out the Comics and Art Department which houses the following majors: Arts and Crafts (Painting, Printmaking, Accessories, Ceramics), Cartoons, Comic Illustration, and Animation. Courses generally take only two years to complete.

From the Osaka College of Art website: In this course, from analog to digital, you can learn the thoughts and know-how of manga making that textbooks cannot learn from manga artists who are active on the front lines. You can acquire practical skills while looking at the hands of professional teachers.

Meanwhile, the Fine Arts Department of the Osaka University of the Arts (大阪芸術大学, Ōsaka Geijutsu Daigaku) offers courses in Oil Painting, Japanese Painting, and Sculpture. 

From the Osaka University of the Arts website: In our curriculums, students can experience all four courses (oil painting, Japanese painting, printmaking, and sculpture) during the first year. By expressing a broad range of expressions, students can find their own artistic methods which are suitable to them. From the second year onward, in their selected courses, each student can master specialized techniques and methods, and explore new artistic fields such as computer arts. For four years here, students not only make a profound study of techniques, but also ask about what and how they should express themselves in their own ways. They construct solid bases for people who can express themselves.

But wait…

…there are certainly more! You may also check out these art universities in Tokyo: Musashino Art University, Tokyo Zokei Art University, and Jyoshibi Art University; and these universities all over Japan: Kanazawa Art and Craft University, Aichi Art University, Okinawa Art University, and Shikoku Gakuin University. As an artist, you must certainly be open to so many possibilities. Dig deeper and you may just find the perfect university that will help you develop your skills and abilities. As for Japan, well it certainly has a lot to offer.

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