Photo/IllutrationVisitors stroll through the outside exhibition area of the Hakone Open-Air Museum in the Ninotaira district of Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture, against the backdrop of the Hakone mountains. The sculpture seen at left is of Henry Moore’s “Reclining Figure: Arch Leg.” (Eiichi Murano)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of stories featuring the aesthetic landscapes of Mount Fuji, Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture and Izu in Shizuoka Prefecture, which have been visited by an increasing number of tourists from overseas. Based on conversations with travelers, the series casts light on sceneries and cultural heritages that gave form to these areas.

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On a lawn flanked by the Hakone mountains to the North, South and West, lies a bronze sculpture with its leg extending East toward the sea.

British sculptor Henry Moore’s “Reclining Figure: Arch Leg” has sat on the same spot at the Hakone Open-Air Museum almost continuously since the 1970s.

“Moore’s beautiful curves and the ridge lines of the mountains provide a sharp contrast,” said Tsukasa Arita, 45, who is in charge of maintenance of the museum's artworks, as he explained the significance of the sculpture's position.

He also talked about the design, which incorporates the distant view lying beyond the outstretched leg: “It sits there, looking out at Sagami Bay.”

Another work by Moore, “Two Piece Reclining Figure: Cut,” is also on display.

An explanatory board describes the motif of the bronze sculpture: “By dividing a human body in half, the viewer’s consciousness drifts away from the figure and blends into the scenery even more.”

The museum opened in Hakone’s Ninotaira district in 1969 and showcases many of its exhibits along open air walkways. Nobutaka Shikanai, the museum's first director, encouraged the public to savor the scenic beauty of the Hakone mountains while viewing the sculptures.

Currently, 112 artworks are scattered outside the museum building. Of them, 71 pieces were created by foreign artists from eight countries, including Britain, the United States, France, Italy and Spain, making the museum a truly international cultural facility.

“The Hand of God” by Carl Milles, a sculptor of Swedish origin who was active in the early 20th century, features a person looking up at the sky with a stunned look as it stands on a giant outstretched hand.

British artist Antony Gormley’s “Close” depicts a body lying prostrate on the ground. Stones were buried underneath the 1-ton sculpture to stop it from slowly sinking into the soil.

The museum has won plaudits on social networking sites used by inbound tourists scouting for information. It attracts about 500,000 visitors a year as a result.

The percentage of visitors who require tour information in English, Chinese or Korean when they enter rose from 5.3 percent in the year ending March 2013 to 19.6 percent in the year ending March 2018. The figure increased to 23.2 percent in the 11 months to this past February. About 72,000 visitors received tour information in English in the year ending March 2018, followed by about 34,000 who sought information in Chinese.

“The art and nature are brought together, and it is very nice,” Smadar Gerlich, 66, from Israel, said on March 22. She also observed that Japanese people seem to have a special affinity for nature, and pay particularly close attention to flowers and trees. “The combination with the garden makes it very special.”

For many years, museum officials have constantly striven to conserve the artworks as rain and cedar pollen in spring leaves a yellowish tarnish if the exhibits were not wiped down.

Another problem concerns wind-borne sulfur and other volcanic substances from the Owakudani valley that rain down on the art pieces, a problem that is peculiar to Hakone.

Because the exhibits are made either of stone or metal, museum staff had to evaluate the protective effects of coatings and solvents on a material-by-material basis. They also created a specially blended wax.

Still, the art pieces were affected by a spike in acidic substances due to volcanic activity in 2015.

“We couldn’t achieve the results we wanted,” Arita said. “We had to change the blend depending on the circumstances.”

So now, the outdoor exhibits are beginning to show new charms, thanks to the staffers’ efforts to conserve the sculptures exposed to the elements for the past half-century.

“A certain texture is being added over time,” he said. “The museum appeals to the five, or even six senses. We’d be happy if visitors can feel something.”

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Eiichi Murano is chief of The Asahi Shimbun’s Odawara and Atami bureaus.