Art & Design
On the Utsukushigahara Highland above Matsumoto, looking out across the central Nagano plains to the Northern Alps, lies this larger-than-life sculpture garden with a view. Visit for a down-the-rabbit-hole juggernaut of incongruity like you've never seen.
On the ride up, or down, there is a stop at Utsukushigahara Onsen to soak your cares away
The spellbinding view from Ogato is the highland's highest point
The Utsukushigahara Open-Air Museum was created as a sister museum to pair with the Hakone Open-Air Museum
Utsukushigahara Open-Air Museum is accessible by bus or by car.
Daily buses run through the summer from the Matsumoto Bus Terminal in front of Matsumoto Station (1 hour 40 minutes).
In spring and fall, you'll need a car. (The museum is closed mid-November to late April). Driving is definitely the easiest way to get to Utsukushigahara in the summer, too.
Utsukushigara. The "Beautiful Fields." Rising 2000 meters above central Nagano, this highland has long captured the imaginations of the people below. In summer, over 200 varieties of wildflowers come into bloom. From its highest point at Ogato, there's a panoramic view of the full sweep of the Japan Alps, Mt. Asama, Yatsugatake, and iconic Mt. Fuji to the south. Hiking trails link the different parts of the highland, all with stunning views, and the walks are easy.
So urges a plaque on one of the pieces at the Utsukushigahara Open-Air Museum. Walk through the gates and you'll be greeted by a four-meter bronze thumb rising from the lawn. Nearby, a decapitated angle spreads her wings. Legless, headless zebra torsos bound up a hill. Colossal abstracts of twisting metal. A vermillion helicopter / dragonfly hybrid. A massive rhinoceros. A screaming Viking head. A replica of Thebes.
350 of these outdoor sculptures occupy 40,000 meters of one of Utsukushigahara Highlands' most scenic spots. This museum without walls wants you to "enjoy the conversation with contemporary art amid the great beauty" of nature. Established at the height of Japanese economic dominance during the Bubble Era in 1981, it remains a fascinating testament to the heady spaces Japan found itself at the time. Wander the grounds, admire the stunning view of the Alps and the summer profusion of flowers, and wonder what hyperreality you've stepped into.
The museum's scarlet roofed main building has gallery and event spaces, a restaurant, a shopping area, and a kids' sculpture play room.