The Otsuka Museum of Art is a place of extremes. It’s the biggest exhibition space in Japan, housing masterpieces of Western art from antiquity to the modern day. The route around its 1,000 artworks is 4km long (2.5 miles), and it takes a full, tiring day to see it all. And with a 3,150 yen (US $29.22) adult admission fee, it’s also Japan’s most expensive gallery.

The works on show are, quite literally, too good to be true. The Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, Guernica, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Rembrandt’s self-portraits: everything is here. And every single one of them is a replica. But why are so many people prepared to pay through the nose to see prints of masterpieces?

The museum, which is located near the Naruto Straight in Tokushima-ken, was founded by Otsuka Pharmaceutical in 1998 – the company that brought the world Pocari Sweat and Calorie Mate. It contains more than 1,000 masterpieces of Western art, all of them reproduced onto ceramic boards. As well as replicas of an enormous range of paintings including the complete works of Leonardo da Vinci and all of Rembrandt’s self-portraits, the museum is also home to large-scale reproductions including the interior of the Sistine Chapel and a long-lost El Greco altarpiece.

▼ Possibly contains even more Japanese tourists than the actual Sistine Chapel.

At a whopping 3,150 yen ($29.22) for adult admission, it’s reported to be Japan’s most expensive gallery (for comparison, the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo is 420 yen [$3.90]). But the price tag doesn’t seem to have held the Otsuka museum back: in 2011, TripAdvisor users voted it the best museum/art gallery in Japan. (We bet the curators of all those “real” paintings in Japan’s other art galleries were cheering when the Otsuka gallery slid back down to Number 8 in TripAdvisor’s rankings this year.)


Like those copies of entire cities that appear suddenly in China, it’s easy to laugh at this “museum of fakes”. But leaving aside the difference between making replica prints with permission, and breaking architectural copyright, the Otsuka Museum of Art fills the same gap in the market as China’s fake Manhattans and little Venices do: it provides an affordable alternative to travelling abroad to see the originals.

Huge collections of Western art don’t come on tour to Japan: even the relatively large-scale Louvre exhibition coming to Tokyo next year is only 70 pieces. Compared to that, a permanent collection housing 1,000 pieces of Western art – from 25 different countries, no less – starts to sound pretty amazing, even if they are replicas. The original version of Picasso’s ‘Geurnica’ is too delicate to be moved; the El Greco altarpiece ‘Doña María de Aragón’, is split between Madrid and Bucharest.

▼ ‘El Replico’ (they don’t call it that, but they should).


The museum actually attempts to provide a visitor experience that is better than the real thing, freeing visitors from the restrictions that conventional museums have to apply to protect artworks from damage. Photography is allowed in all parts of the Otsuka galleries, and there are no ropes or wires to stand behind. You can stand as close to the replica paintings as you want, and even touch them.

Otsuka’s museum directors see their porcelain replicas as capturing a moment in history: they form a permanent record of the condition these works were in at the turn of the millennium. While the original artworks, scattered around the globe, will continue to fade and deteriorate, the ceramic prints in Tokushima are intended to last for at least another 2,000 years.

Sources: Naver MatomeOtsuka Museum
Images: Wikipedia/663highlandcolocaltoffee-chan
Top image: Wikipedia/663highland
Featured image: Tokushima Prefecture Tourism Association