We visit a museum for the common but under-appreciated Japanese art of kote-e.

After reading the news that Banksy’s reboot of “Dogs Playing Poker” had recently sold for US$12 million, our reporter Masanuki Sunakoma was feeling a little down on the art world. So, he decided to look around for some real down-to-earth artistic expression for a change.

His search led him to the Miura Kote-e Museum of Art in a residential area Onojo City, Fukuoka Prefecture. Kote-e, which literally translates to “trowel picture,” is a Japanese art form that is said to date back to 200 BC. As the name suggests, it involves making decorative reliefs with plaster and a trowel.

▼ A trowel, typically used in gardening or to smooth concrete, not for making artwork.

Wikimedia Commons/DO’Neil

This museum was run by noted kote-e artist Tatsuhiko Miura and contains over 200 of his works. However, it would be difficult to find, tucked away in a residential neighborhood near Mizuki Station. Luckily, the giant plaster dragon out front helped our reporter find his way.

A couple of school children walked passed without acknowledging the dragon or the little man triumphantly standing on its nose. Masanuki figured they were just too washed up in Banksy-mania to appreciate some real art for a change.

He walked toward the front of the museum where a crudely constructed alcove stood with various works hung inside. The sign which read “Kote-e Museum of Art” pointed Masanuki to a rickety ramp leading to the second floor.

As the wooden planks buckled and creaked beneath his feet, our reporter wasn’t sure if this entrance was up to fire code standards, but he could be sure of its authenticity.

“Now, this is where the real art is,” he thought excitedly to himself.

However, upon reaching the second floor Masanuki was surprised to find nothing. It just looked like a typical external corridor of an apartment complex.

▼ “Is this… the art?”

After finding a normal staircase back down to the ground and searching around a little, he found that there was actually an entrance to the museum behind the alcove. It looked like the building’s old underground parking lot had been converted into the Miura Kote-e Museum.

It was a little daunting to go through the erratically arranged pile of junk and art, but the actual museum’s interior was surprisingly clean and well-organized.

No one was there, but signs instructed Masanuki that no admission was needed, he could turn the lights on or off freely, and photography was fine. It was about as chill a museum as one could find. All around him were traditional imagery, cartoon characters, and everything in between, all done in the distinctive kote-e style.

There were far too many works to document each one, but some that really stood out for Masanuki included “Oehon” which depicted a missionary holding a picture book.

There was also this one showing a man with both his arms and necktie cut short, perhaps symbolic of how our busy modern lives are cutting short our very freedoms.

Then there was this one which Masanuki didn’t really understand at all, so it must have been operating on a deep artistic level that was beyond his sensibilities.

Also present throughout the museum were mysterious figures without any pants such as this young man here.

There was also this trouserless lady titled “Hatsune Miku.”

The highlight of the exhibit was “Hana wa Hana wa Hana wa Saku” (Flowers, Flowers, Flowers Bloom) which according to a note by Miura, “was in a poster which hung in a new building of the Louvre.” Copies of the poster hung beside the original piece.

Another recognized work was “Waaaa Sugoi” (Wow Great) which had received an award in Thailand.

Walking out of the main hall, Masanuki could say without a doubt that this was some truly original art. The museum had challenged him to think about certain things as much as it had challenged him to find the entrance.

There were a few other pieces in the museum’s exterior such as this one which harks back to a more classical style of kote-e.

There was also a statue of what appeared to be an upper-middle-aged man morphing into a woman. Masanuki wasn’t sure if this was an actual work on display or something just lying around, but it really spoke to him.

All in all, the Miura Kote-e Museum of Art really refreshed Masanuki’s artistic batteries and got him ready to go back out into the world where he’d read about more overhyped and overvalued works of high art in the news. Heck, he might even start following Jeff Koons on Twitter after this.

Museum information
Miura Kote-e Art Museum / 三浦鏝絵美術館
Address: Fukuoka-ken, Onojo-shi, Shimo-ori 4-7-1
Hours: Sunrise to sunset, seven days a week

Photos: ©SoraNews24
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