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MA interviews Prof. Tsuji
Full Interview with Prof. Tsuji - Corporate Curating in Japan

While in Japan, the Director of Master Artisan – Jean-Christophe Burckhardt ("JCB")- conducted an exciting interview with acclaimed Professor Kiyoji Tsuji ("PKT"), curator of the world-famous contemporary art display in Hotel Granvia ("HG"). Amongst discussion was the arts and crafts trend in Japan, the history behind the hotel display, and some history behind the Professor’s success.

The lobby in the Hotel Granvia, Kyoto

JCB: How did the project originate?

PKT: The CEO of Japan Railway ("JR") West Mr. Ryutaro Sato initially conceived the idea of having art displayed in the hotel. He initially approached the director of the Kyoto Metropolitan Art Museum because they attended the same school. However because the director works for a government museum, he felt that he couldn’t take on a private commission and approached myself - I was working as a freelance Art curator. I also know a lot about Kyoto and Mr. Sato thus felt that I was an appropriate person.

JCB: What was the selection criteria for the artwork?

PKT: First of all we came up with the concept to find out about the hotel. I got together with the hotel marketing department and looked at what the hotel was going to be, and then we compared it to Osaka and Tokyo. We looked at what sort of clientele were going to be coming, and so on which area the marketing was going to be focussed on in terms of customer base. Looking at Kyoto’s location and history, we were going to focus on tourism as opposed to business clients like in Tokyo, and customers who tend to stay a bit longer because they are here for tourism. From there I was able to get an idea of what sort of hotel it was going to be, and customer base, and then took the project to the next level. The idea was for the clients to base themselves in Kyoto and to be able to relax and have leisure time and space. From this I built up my concept.
  "Cosmic Ring 97'" by Mrs. Naomi Kobayashi

"Flowers" by Mr. Kageo Miura

"After Hunting Stop 493" by Mr. Shoichi Ida


There had been a number of recommendations of proposals regarding this project from various people. They were all from Tokyo-based people who were recommending a variety of artists you could see anywhere in Japan, and the idea in this particular collection was to bring out the unique flavour of Kyoto. I also wanted the people of Kyoto to approve and accept the exhibition that was being put together. I wanted the Kyoto people to approve of the collection, and to accept and approve the hotel.

I put together a collection that ranged from the traditional in Kyoto to the modern: a broad range, including craft to fine art. Japan Railway also had criteria with respect to this collection, and the company itself has a large art collection and they actually wanted me to review their whole collection to determine if I could actually develop the hotel’s collection from the existing large company collection.

I scoured through 15 books containing details of the company’s art collection, which took about a month, and out of that I chose several items. For example one is the major painting of the mountain, which is in the Imperial Suite in the hotel. Another example is the large screen in the lobby from the Edo period.

(Above: "Mountain" by Mr. Genso Okuda)

JCB: Often corporations have large Art collections however there aren’t many opportunities for customers and people to interact with the art collection. Is this the largest corporate Art Collection that is viewed and interacts with customers in Japan?

PKT: The concept for the HG’s art collection was to utilize the existing JR art collection, and also with the remaining budget to purchase and incorporate newer artworks. So there had been an independent request for consideration of Art student’s works to be displayed, because Kyoto has very large number of Art schools. The request had wondered about whether they could utilise such artworks in the hotel rooms and suites, but we felt that that it may be a bit difficult. Consequently we were able to develop a gallery downstairs in the restaurant floor, where there is a six-monthly rotating exhibition of Japanese style paintings by the current Art University Faculty of Fine Arts students.

The other area that that I had wanted to develop a concept for was the guest’s rooms where customers spend the most time: we developed a museum in the rooms. We had suggestions to utilize a number of artists to be exhibited in the guest rooms, however we felt that we should choose one artist. We then  chose one photographer whose photographs would comprise a museum for the guests’ rooms. We commissioned a photographer called Mr. Takao Inoue, a well-known photographer in Kyoto. We commissioned him to take photographs of images of Kyoto – what he considered demonstrated key images of Kyoto. He took 20 000 photographs over a period of just over 12 months. This was reduced to 1200 photos, then further reduced to 200 images, which I looked at. I then chose about 150 images and then each photograph was developed by the photographer himself, and are now on display in the guest rooms.

JCB: Is this an example of how business and Art can help each other? Do you have any personal views on the role of business in art? Would you please expand.
PKT: My job is as a freelance curator and I often do exhibitions. I feel that it’s my mission to be the link between art and business, and to promote arts through business. I often seen new hotels being built with one artist being commissioned for work in a particular hotel, however I feel that the difference with HG is the uniqueness of the collection of works. This exhibition is my creation, therefore my work is on exhibition. To actually receive interest from people for my selection is actually very rewarding for me.

"Blue Space" by Ms. Yasue Kodama

"Twinkling Cosmos" by Sayoko Eri


"Shape of Wall" by Shigekazu Nagae

JCB: What are the challenges facing emerging Artists in Japan?

PKT: It is very challenging to sell Art in Japan, but large corporations are interested in buying Art. At the same time there aren’t many people to advise on Art purchases, and I feel that my role is in coordinating. Curating for the hotel is very difficult because it touches a range of events in people’s lives, from weddings to funerals. One needs to be sensitive and there are potential issues which may arise, unless you are sensitive about where these potential issues are.  One set of sculptural work that I purchased which was in one of the wedding areas prompted someone to comment that it looked like an incense burner, which caused a concern because it was perceived to be potentially inappropriate. Being aware of these seldom-found sensitivities that people may express, are of a high concern. However I feel that the collection that I have now accumulated has such great works of art that some museums would like to get their hands on it. The artworks are considered to be quite a collection.

JCB: Is it difficult to be selling artwork?

PKT: Selling of art is very difficult, especially with contemporary pieces of Art. In Japan lots of people live in smaller houses therefore do not generally collect artworks, therefore you turn more to corporations to purchase artworks. I feel that my role is to support emerging artists through corporate sponsorship.

Contemporary art is certainly not sought after. People do collect antique ware and sometimes craft work because of the size of their homes. The public in general does not seek contemporary artwork. Corporate sponsorship is valuable.  Not all corporations necessarily have that point of view, but I realised the opportunity to do so and therefore I feel that for people like myself, it is our role to promote those opportunities and liaise between the artists and the corporations.

JCB: Do you see the Internet and Art and Craft websites as important in International promotion?

PKT: Japan is very much behind in that respect, for example in the United States they have Guilds, specialised magazines and more extensive networks. In Japan it’s not really networked and has relied more on individual relationships and competitions. In Japan the focus is more on individual connections and relationships, and increasingly on art competitions. Japanese Artists do look to overseas and galleries are starting to promote Artists overseas and for one piece of sculpture artwork in the collection which is hanging over one of the escalators by a female artist (large circle) – Miss Kobayashi - has just signed a contract to do some work in Hong Kong.

"C. W. 979" by Morinobu Toda

JCB: In Japan fine crafts and paintings and sculptures (or fine Arts) have not been separated, and both are valued. In the West they have been separated. Please explain as to how and what, in Japan, has made and kept it.

PKT: I agree that it is quite separate in the west, however in Japan, in the Kanto region – which is where Tokyo and the eastern part of Japan are - there is actually a strict separation between the two, however in Kyoto it is more mixed and it is a key feature of the Arts in Kyoto. In this way they influence each other. I feel that this is originally how Art developed in Japan, with different areas influencing each other. In Kanto there would be a quite clear-cut distinction between craft and fine art, in that there are galleries exclusive to exhibiting works that are either in the craft or fine art area. In Kyoto a single gallery may exhibit both a mix of craft work and art work: this is the main interesting aspect of Kyoto. There since has been more of an acceptance by people and of the art gallery owners of the influence of the traditions in the art.

JCB: As part of our intention to promote Art and fine crafts worldwide, we would like to contact the appropriate government and cultural institutions, the intention is to promote a Japanese Art and craft tourism campaign. Who do we contact?

PKT: There are no specific organisations, there is no government support for the concept of international promotion. There are individual craftsman’s organizations that may promote themselves, but there is no coordinated efforts on the government’s part to support the arts. There are Japanese government organizations such as the Japan Foundation representing Japanese cultural aspects in overseas countries, but we do not see any specific promotion of the Arts. Usually with overseas and Consulate Generals, there are cultural attaches whose job is to promote each country’s culture.

Please click on the below links to view related articles:

The Hotel Granvia Art Collection: Uncovering a Hidden Gem
Hotel Granvia - The Specialist Hotel for the Art and Craft Lover
Behind the Curating Process

Photo Gallery - Hotel Granvia Collection

Photo Gallery - Crafts in Kyoto

Photo Gallery - Visiting Kyoto

Professor Kiyoji Tsuji’s Biography

Presently, Professor, Seian University of Art & Design, Kyoto Japan
Freelance curator

Born in Osaka Japan, Dec 1948

Bachelor of Fine Arts, Kyoto City University of Arts
Master of Fine Arts, Kyoto City University of Arts

Professional Affiliations:
Member, Native Art Foundation
Member, International Ceramic Academy
Executive Member, Kyoto Art & Cultural Association

Areas of Expertise:
Cultural affairs planning and management
Research into Japanese contemporary craft

Research Interests:
Artistic & cultural exchange projects with corporations
Artistic & cultural strategy and planning for the local government

Prof Tsuji has extensive experience in his role as an advisor and curator of various exhibitions over the past 20 years not only in Japan but internationally, including exhibitions in Western Australia, Ontario Canada, and Seoul Korea. 

He has published a book titled Fibre Art Japan and has been a regular contributor to a publication on textile art since 1990.

He holds a number of positions on committees for arts and craft organizations and has judged at competitions and exhibitions.


Jean-Christophe Burckhardt and Master Artisan would like to thank the following people for their support in our Crafts in Kyoto, Japan promotional tour and editorials:

Professor Kyoji Tsuji of Seian University for his time and for sharing his expertise as a curator.

Dr. Atsumi Fukui for her assistance in interviewing, translating and editing our articles.

I would also like to warmly thank all the staff at Hotel Granvia for their support and help, with special thanks to Ms Kanako Murayama (International Marketing Director) and her assistant Ms Yuka Murata, the Art Collection Manager Mr. Yosuke Naito, and the Guest Relations Manager Ms. Shiho Ikeuchi.

The location, luxury, art display, and conveniences within and surrounding Hotel Granvia, make it the premier choice hotel when staying and experiencing Kyoto. For more information, follow the links below or please contact the hotel directly on:  telephone (81)-75-344-8888, fax (81)-75-344-4400, or e-mail

For Reservations please call (81)-75-344-4433 or e-mail

Link to hotel website:


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