The Genteel
February 26, 2021


Musashino Art University Museum and Library in Tokyo, Japan. Source:

Beyond Central Saint Martins: Read Part Two

Musashino Art University, though widely recognised as one of Japan's finest schools of art and design, is responsible for fostering much more than artistic prowess. Firmly committed to the development of culture and the maintenance of an ever increasing international network, MAU has an influence that is both institutionally and individually felt.

Best of Both Worlds

Founded as Teikoku Art School in 1929, MAU now encompasses three dynamic sites spread across the heart of Tokyo and its outskirts. Each campus location, like Tokyo city itself, is a melting pot for the old and new. The main campus of Takanodaim displays the original architectural creations of the late Professor Emeritus Yoshinobu Ashihara, while simultaneously boasting a full range of modern facilities, enabling its students to reach their optimum creative potential.

Painting by student Sakurai Mika

Painting by student Sakurai Mika.

Tradition and innovation are equally juxtaposed in the courses offered at MAU. Orthodox disciplines such as Japanese painting - taught since inception - have been expanded to include Architecture, The Science of Design, Fashion Design and even Arts Policy and Management.

Personal Development

Regardless of the precise discipline practiced, the ethos underscoring each course remains refreshingly consistent: a holistic approach towards the practice of art, fostering not only great artists but well-rounded individuals. In the context of an increasingly results-orientated society, Yoji Koda - President of MAU - explains in his presidential message posted on the university's website that he believes "a society in which art and design flourishes is...a society that values the feelings of...every individual human being."

Speaking with The Genteel, Bonnie Rychlak, artist and former curator and studio assistant for prominent Japanese American artist Isamu Noguchi, noted this attitude of reverence amongst the students, which she was able to pick up on during her short time teaching at MAU: "I was particularly impressed by the respect and attention I was given by the students. It was a satisfying [and] joyful experience for me to speak to them in my workshops [and] that I hope I can perform again."

International Relations

Increasingly, MAU has shown a firm commitment to the forming of international ties. Not only does the university boast a high percentage of exchange students - 162 out of 4244 students come from abroad - but also a growing number of faculty exchange programs. In addition to Professor Rychlak, Timon Screech - Professor of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London - is another of the many visiting professors hosted by MAU.

A society in which art and design flourishes is...a society that values the feelings of...every individual human being.

Speaking with The Genteel, Professor Screech explains: "I have had the lucky opportunity to visit numerous universities in Japan, but [MAU] was certainly one of the most impressive in terms of facilities, students and staff. I enjoyed my experiences [there] tremendously."

Comprehensive Curricular

Somewhat mirroring the approach taken by Limerick School of Art and Design, MAU is reluctant to allow its students to specialise too early. Believing that true knowledge of art and design requires the study of a comprehensive range of subjects, the team at MAU state that students enjoy "a wide range of disciplines that will help them to cultivate the all-round judgemental and critical faculties needed to major in their intended field of art or design."

Such is evident in the study of Scenography, Display and Fashion Design at MAU, where it is only in the penultimate year that students begin to specialise, focusing on their chosen of the three title disciplines. Even then a holistic approach to study is maintained. Fashion Design at MAU, far from focussing on clothing production alone, invites students to view fashion in context - from the use of media and presentation to the launching of a brand.

Lost in Translation

Holistic and high quality, the method of teaching at MAU will appeal to many. However, despite MAU's international reach, classes, seminars and examinations are conducted in Japanese, mandating that all international students be proficiently fluent in the language.

"The main challenge was the language...barriers created miscommunications and misunderstandings," Professor Rychlak admits when reflecting upon her short time teaching 'Isamu Noguchi: Twentieth Century American and Japanese Art' at MAU - a curatorial critique where students were asked to create a theme for an exhibition on the artist's work.

Work by students Ichikawa Hitomi and  Kishida Machiko

Work by students Ichikawa Hitomi and
Kishida Machiko. Source:

Universal Influence

Linguistic barriers aside, those teaching at MAU note the potential influence that art can hold as something that remains truly universal. Hosting the World Summit of Art University Presidents in 2009, MAU played a central role in forming the Tokyo Declaration.

A commitment to the role of the art university in "pursing the ideals of true freedom and affluence" and cooperating in "contributing to the world," the Tokyo Declaration constitutes a bold statement of the power of art in an increasingly corporate society.

Firmly rooted in their richly cultured history, one can certainly expect life and teaching at MAU to continue to shape the future of art and design through the holistic and internationally minded individuals it creates.

Related Article: Beyond Central Saint Martins: Part 2

Related Article: The Floating World 



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