Must see:Renovated Japanese house Hagiso is Tokyo’s “smallest” art complex

It’s a little-kept secret that almost all of the interesting recent new art spaces in Tokyo are “recycled” spaces — ones that are reusing an old building or facility.

A few years ago 3331 Arts Chiyoda opened in the former Rensei Junior High School near Akihabara, while Tokyo Denki University in Kanda was turned temporarily into Trans Arts Tokyo festival in 2012 (set to return in autumn 2013). And for years, Gallery ef in Asakusa has used a former Japanese kurastorehouse to host art events and performances, while SCAI The Bathhouse in Yanaka, the major art gallery housed in a former sento, surely needs no introduction.

For a city that often seems obsessed with the new and frequently displays a profane disregard for preserving its heritage, these recycled spaces are exciting even just for daring to be old — and certainly a world removed from the cultivated swank of other new art venues in Shibuya or Roppongi.

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Hagiso before it was renovated

Joining SCAI in the quiet shitamachi neighborhood of Yanaka now is Hagiso, a former house that has been converted into the “smallest cultural facility complex” by a group of students from the nearby Tokyo University of the Arts.

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Hagiso, the newly renovated Japanese house in Yanaka that is now a venue for art and other events

The two-storey building sits rather serenely in its new classy coating of black, nestling among the temples of one of the oldest parts of Tokyo.

When renovating the site, the team behind Hagiso have cleaned up but retained the original traditional wooden fittings, adding a very peaceful cafe downstairs, while turning much of the rest of the building into spaces for changing events.

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Hagi Cafe

For the inaugural show, ‘Hagiennale 2013: Third Life’, multiple artists added installations and exhibits all around the building, from the toilet to stairway, and almost all of the walls on both floors.

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You can look right out at the exhibition space while enjoying a cup of coffee.

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Downstairs exhibition space during ‘Hagiennale 2013: Third Life’

There were also dance performances on the opening night, plus ‘Third Life’ also featured a pop-up crafts shop in one room, offering jewellery and accessories by several designers.

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The gift shop in Hagi Room

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Performance on the opening night of ‘Third Life’

Even the attic, which has been left exposed, can be utilized for projecting artworks. The upstairs also now includes an atelier, hair salon and design office.

From 2004 Hagiso was a share house and studio for artist residencies, following a fifty year-stint as a rental property. It played host to the ‘Hagiennale 2012′, showing students’ work, which attracted 1,500 visitors.

It was then set to be demolished but a successful crowd funding campaign on Campfire led to enough money being raised to keep Hagiso going as a new exhibition and cultural facility.

Hagiso also has a nice sense of humor. We love this graphic they made, comparing the size of their venue with other famous “multi-purpose” facilities like Tokyo Midtown, Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Sky Tree.

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Why Hagiso can claim to be Tokyo’s “smallest” cultural facility! Can you work out what the other buildings are?

The opening event ‘Hagiennale 2013: Third Life’ has now closed but Hagiso will continue to host exhibitions, performances, talks, screenings and more.



3-10-25 Yanaka, Taito-ku, Tokyo

Transport Sendagi Station (Chiyoda line), Nippori Station (Yamanote, Keihin-Tohoku, Joban, Keisei lines)

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