Take the train from Tokyo’s Kitasenju-station, about 80 minutes North-East up to Gunma Prefecture, and you will arrive at Ota station. In front of Ota station’s North Exit is the newly opened Ota Art Museum & Library.
Ota isn’t exactly a popular tourist destination. Primarily a manufacturing city, its neighbors include the car manufacturer Subaru, Mitsubishi Electric, Ajinomoto and Kikkoman factories. With just a little more than 200,000 people the city isn’t huge either. And while about 10,000 people get on and off trains at Ota station every day – until recently the area in front of the station was deserted – most residents go shopping in the suburbs.
As part of a project to revitalize the city center, officials decided to build a culture center in front of the station. How exactly this would look like was developed in a workshop lead by the architect Akihisa Hirata, along with local citizens participating in the workshop to develop the concept for a building that would serve both as library as well as museum
The library/museum finally opened in April 2017. But it wasn’t without controversy. Back in 2015 plagiarism allegations emerged over a proposed logo that had been designed by Kenjiro Sano, the now-notorious designer of the scrapped Tokyo Olympics identity. Citizens urged the museum to find a new logo, which they did. It was created by Atsushi Hirano.
The white walls and big windows make the building very welcoming – but once inside the building is somewhat like a maze. You can sit on one of the wide staircases, read books or study. There is a slope called “the path of learning” (manabi no michi) which is part of the building’s library.
The building has three entrances leading you to different parts of the building. The one on the ground floor faces the station and is directly connected to the in-house café. The entrances on the second and third floors are connected to the exhibition space and library parts of the building.
Not to forget the terrace, where you can enjoy the books outside (should the weather allow) – or the rooftop garden from where you can see the ancient Tenjin-yama kofun, a megalithic tomb from the Yayoi period, and the remains of Kanayama Castle.
The Kitano Smith Coffee Shop on the ground floor is run by the local Blacksmith Coffee and only sells local products.
The most attractive thing about the building though is the library, which hosts an impressive 10,000 children’s books from over 60 countries as well as about 9,000 photo and art books. And art here does not only include fine arts, but also performing arts.
Ota Art Museum & Library
16-30 Higashi-Honcho, Ota-shi, Gunma-ken (Map)
Hours: Tue-Sat 10:00 to 20:00, Sun and holidays from 10:00 to 18:00
Closed on Mondays (if Monday falls on a public holiday, the library will be closed the following work day)