Capturing the True Face of Kabukicho through Contemporary Art

TOKYU KABUKICHO TOWER, which opened in April 2023, is causing a stir in Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Japan's iconic entertainment district, sparked by contemporary art.
"Shinjuku" by Nishi Tatzu at JAM17 BAR on the 17th floor of TOKYU KABUKICHO TOWER.

190 Contemporary Artworks on Display!

TOKYU KABUKICHO TOWER, with 48 floors above ground and 5 floors underground, is one of the largest skyscraper complexes in Japan. The tower houses two hotels, (BELLUSTAR TOKYO, A Pan Pacific Hotel, and HOTEL GROOVE SHINJUKU, A PARKROYAL Hotel), as well as restaurants and entertainment facilities, including cinemas, theaters, live music venue, and bars. Kabukicho became a center for popular entertainment in postwar Japan and Tokyu Corporation, the company responsible for this redevelopment, is promoting the area as a future major global entertainment hotspot. One major pillar of this scheme is the contemporary artworks displayed throughout the tower.

For example, HOTEL GROOVE SHINJUKU has three Groove Rooms, each designed by a different artist, Tamayama Takuro, Kaihatsu Yoshiaki, and Washio Tomoyuki. These rooms provide a special space where guests can fully immerse themselves in the world of the artist's work during their stay.

Kawazoe Mai, the company's Shinjuku Project Planning & Development Headquarters; who oversaw the art project, said, "This facility is designed to allow visitors to experience the atmosphere of Shinjuku's Kabukicho, with a focus on the history, culture, events, memories, and human activities that have emerged from this district. As part of this effort, we decided to commission 26 Japanese artists, ranging from emerging talents to established names, and exhibit 190 contemporary artworks in the tower. Their creations, portraying the characteristics of the region are based on connections with the history and culture of Kabukicho. Of the 190 pieces, 175 were newly created for this project. The exhibition aims to further enhance the area's appeal, spreading its culture and history to the world via these artworks whilst creating memorable experiences for visitors."

The project was supervised by Haito Masahiko, director of the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art. He has many years of experience exhibiting artworks with strong regional ties at Aichi Triennale, one of the largest international art festivals in Japan. The project was also supervised by ANOMALY, a contemporary art gallery in Tokyo.

"We introduced the history and culture of Kabukicho to the artists and walked the streets with them," Kawazoe said. Pictured in front of "Wasureji no Kioku" (Unforgettable Reminiscences) by Sasaki Rui.

Elevating the Neighborhood

Prior to the opening, the Kabukicho Blue Festival was held in cooperation with neighborhood associations. The #Sukigatsunaidekureta (Love Connected Me) promotion was launched on X (formerly Twitter). In April, 2023, the neighborhood was decorated with blue flags according to the number of posts tagged with the hashtag #Sukigatsunaidekureta, and the usually red Kabukicho Ichibangai Arch was lit blue. The blue color is said to be inspired by the history of Kabukicho, which was once a land of streams and abundant water.

The hustle and bustle since its opening has far exceeded expectations, with many overseas visitors thanks to the direct buses running to and from Narita and Haneda airports to the tower's entrance on the first floor.

On display on a large pedestal at the second-floor entrance is "Biru Burger", (Build-Burger) an artwork by the popular artist group Chim↑Pom (now Chim↑Pom from Smappa! Group). Its location, just a short escalator ride from Kabukicho Cinecity Square, has rapidly attracted attention as a meeting spot.

"Biru Burger" (Build-Burger) by Chim↑Pom is an artwork using materials salvaged from the demolished Kabukicho Book Center. Photo: Keizo Kioku
"Dream of Aurora" by Shinohara Ushio at the first-floor hotel entrance of TOKYU KABUKICHO TOWER. Instead of a paintbrush, this artwork was painted by dipping a boxing glove in paint and punching the canvas.

Exploring Kabukicho, which Fosters a Diverse Range of Cultures

There are plans to launch excursions that link tours of the facility's artworks with walks through the streets of Kabukicho. Since many of the contemporary artworks in the tower can only be seen by visitors to the hotel, theater, or live music venue, the creation of such excursions will allow more people to enjoy these artworks.

A guidebook, explaining the relationship between Kabukicho and the contemporary artworks, is sold at the store in the tower.

Kawazoe concluded, "Kabukicho's many faces are also a major attraction. The atmosphere is vastly different from day to night, and large facilities and small stores run by individual shopkeepers coexist. The town welcomes all people with open arms, and people live here as their true selves. This is a town where diversity has long been recognized. Perhaps that is what attracts people. We hope that contemporary art will help convey the appeal of Kabukicho from a different angle, and that more and more people will be able to see the appeal of this neighborhood in the future."

Interview and writing by Imaizumi Aiko
Photos by Kaneko Satoshi
Translation by Amitt