If you’re “turning Japanese” but can’t go to Japan for the time being, not to worry. Even if you’re in Israel, you still have the chance to see, learn, experience, and even study Japanese arts and culture.
On the crest of Mount Carmel in Haifa, you can see a small, unassuming gray building surrounded by some bamboo trees. Sometimes, it displays banners or posters written in Japanese, besides Hebrew and English. That’s the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art, which has the distinction of being the only Japanese art museum in the Middle East. It is also one of the earliest museums since the State of Israel was established.
Behind the building’s humble exterior, the museum is a treasure trove of Japanese crafts and artworks. It provides Israelis the chance to learn, experience, and get acquainted with Japanese culture. In addition, the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art serves as an instrument to foster relations between Israel and Japan and to promote study and research into the arts and culture of Japan.
The museum’s remarkable history
So, how did such a unique museum in Israel come into being?
The Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art’s history is as fascinating and remarkable as the museum itself. It was the dream of its founder, Felix Tikotin. Born in Holland, Tikotin was an architect by profession whose passion was collecting Japanese artworks. For forty years, Tikotin amassed his rare and valuable collection and organized exhibitions of Japanese art in several museums in the Netherlands.
But the rise of Nazism and World War II changed everything. Because Tikotin was a Jew, he had no other choice but to flee his home. With no alternative, he hid his precious Japanese collection to prevent it from falling into the enemies’ hands.
After the war, Tikotin returned to the Netherlands and recovered his priceless hoard of Japanese artworks. He decided that his unique collection should be showcased in Israel. In 1956 he arrived in Israel and met with Haifa’s mayor, Abba Hushi. Now having the endorsement from the city council, Tikotin pushed his plans of establishing a Japanese art museum in Haifa.
Tikotin traveled to many countries, including Switzerland, France, and Japan, to support his idea. His advisers included the prestigious Japanese museum director Nagatake Asano; academics such as Prof. Chisaburoh Yamada of the Tokyo University of Arts; and spiritualists such as Victor M. A. Suzuki. Yamada was later chosen as the first director of the Japanese museum in Haifa.
Construction of the museum began in 1959, in accordance to Tikotin’s plans and ideas. The building was designed in the true Japanese spirit. It was installed with iconic shoji screen inner doors and walls – a sheer paper over a latticed frame. The sliding shoji doors lead to the garden, conveying a Japanese atmosphere. After a year of construction, the museum opened to the public on May 25, 1960.
Benefactors from different parts of Israel and abroad started to contribute through years of renovations, expansions, and ceremonial events. The Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art now owns an impressive collection of over 8,500 items of arts and crafts, and the numbers continue to increase over time.
The massive collection ranges from paintings, prints, and drawings to fans, ceramics, miniature carvings, antique swords, and functional artworks. While a larger part of the collection is antique (dating from the 17th to 19th centuries), the museum also showcases contemporary and modern Japanese art.
Tikotin’s daughter, Ilana Druker-Tikotin, is now the museum’s executive director, continuing her father’s legacy as an upholder of Japanese art and culture.
Tips before going to the museum
IMPORTANT: before going to the museum, consider these reminders so that you won’t end up disappointed (as the case of many people who have visited it):
- Exhibitions change from time to time;
- When the museum prepares for a new exhibition or displays, it is usually closed.
- Opening hours can vary. Thus, it’s important to check out its official website (https://www.tmja.org.il/) before visiting. Or, you can contact the museum (details at the end of the article).
- Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed to take photographs inside the museum, at least for the time being. So, you’ll only see old photos or photos taken outside the museum building.
Here are some important tips if you’re planning to visit the museum:
- Contact the museum and inquire them about the exhibitions currently on display. There are no permanent exhibitions as they’re constantly changing.
- Also ask the museum if the entrance is free on Saturdays or holidays, and what tours on that date.
- Keep in mind that the museum offers a range of tours in different languages. So, for example, if you want the tour spoken in Hebrew, join a guided tour in Hebrew.
Visiting the museum
Stepping inside the museum complex, it’s as if you’re being transported from the Middle East to the Far East in an instant. A small but charming bridge flanked by tall bamboos takes you to the museum’s entrance. The atmosphere conveys Zen peacefulness and calm.
Again, the tours are offered in different languages. As long as you have purchased entrance tickets, you are free to join in any of these tours.
A typical visit to the entire museum complex takes about two hours, unless you’re attending workshops or hanging out at the coffee shop.
Like most museums, Tikotin also offers workshops and courses. Workshops based on exhibitions are conducted for school children, pre-school children, teachers, and other groups. Courses offered in the museum include studying the Japanese language, calligraphy, ink drawing, ikebana (the traditional art of flower arrangement), and cooking. In addition, the museum launches special activities for the children.
The museum presents various events on Japanese arts and culture. These events include lectures, film screenings, tea ceremonies, festivals, and special events and celebrations. As a result, the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art is more than just a place for art displays and exhibitions. It is also a center for understanding and promoting Japanese culture and establishing closer ties between Israel and Japan.
The Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art is not too far from the other attractions in Haifa, including the Baha’i Gardens. Thus, it is best to combine the visit with nearby tourist spots to make your Haifa day tour a lot more pleasant.
Interested in visiting more museums in Haifa? Check out the list of the other top museums and galleries in Haifa.
Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art – information details
HaNassi Boulevard 89,
Sunday and Wednesday – 10:00 – 19:00
Thursday: 12:00 – 20:00
Friday: 10:00 – 14:00
Saturday and holidays: 10:00 – 16:00
Monday and Tuesday: closed
Entrance fees (subject to change without prior notice):
Adult: 35 NIS
Children (5 – 18): 25 NIS
Soldiers, police officers, students, and handicapped: 25 NIS
Haifa residents (present your ID card): 30 NIS
Senior citizens: 17.5 NIS
Family (a couple and two children): 90 NIS; additional child: 15 NIS
Great tip: You can also purchase a bundle ticket to visit six museums in Haifa (including the Haifa Museum of Art and Tikotin) for seven days. For more information about the price list, go to this link: https://www.hms.org.il/eng/Price_List.
How to get to Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art?
You can get to Tikotin by various buses, depending on your starting point: 21, 22, 23, 27, 30, and 31.
You can also take the Carmelit subway if you’re in downtown Haifa. Stop at Carmel Center station (Gan Haem) — the museum is only a few walks from there.