How Warehouse Terrada Turned Reclaimed Land at the Edge of Tokyo into Japan’s Leading “Art Quarter”

In a July 2023 report, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) reported that the country’s art market in 2021 was approximately $1.5 billion. However, the latest Art Basel UBS report, published in March, reported that Japan’s share of the global art market was $650 million, far lower than METI’s estimation. Given that Japan now has the fourth largest GDP in the world, second only to the US and China, why does Japan linger in the wings when it comes to art?

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If connectivity between art, and business, can be enhanced, it should be possible to promote creativity and generate new value. Further, by extension, it should be possible to enrich Japan using the power of art. While the METI report examines these hypotheses from various angles, there is one company in Japan that over the course of several decades has taken the lead in establishing an impressive track record on these issues: Warehouse TERRADA, based in Tennozu, a waterfront district in Tokyo.

Mural by Meguru Yamaguchi for Tennoz Art Festival 2024

While the company may need no introduction, given its position as an indispensable player in the Japanese art world, to briefly review, Warehouse Terrada was founded in 1950 in Tennozu, a reclaimed land that grew into a distribution base during the Showa period. In the 1970s, the company launched a storage business for artworks and valuable goods and, in 2010, it began developing a broad range of art-related businesses that derive from, and are linked to, the storage business.

Those businesses include:  Pigment Tokyo: one of the world’s largest art-supply stores stocking rare art materials; Terrada Art Assist Co., Ltd. : a one-stop service providing transport, insurance, and restoration of artworks; the Terrada Art Complex: an art facility that houses a number of Japan’s leading contemporary art galleries and also features rental studios for artists and a bonded gallery; the WHAT Museum, which provides venues and opportunities for public viewing of artworks deposited with Warehouse Terrada by creators and collectors; and the WHAT Cafe, an art gallery cafe at which the works of younger artists can be enjoyed and purchased.

WHAT Museum

Warehouse Terrada has, with gathering pace, contributed to a new urban development built on a foundation of art. As a result, Tennozu, conventionally a functional district of warehouses and offices that was not known for promoting a cultural lifestyle, now has a reputation across Japan as an “art quarter.”

In 2023, Warehouse Terrada collaborated with the Tokyo Gendai art fair to bring the Japanese art scene to the wider world and to promote Tennozu by hosting the Tennozu Art Week, featuring the site-specific performance work figurante by Tomoko Mukaiyama, a pianist and artist based in Amsterdam. This illustrates the innovative example that represents the spirit of the Warehouse.

Warehouse Terrada will once again will be the official fair partner of Tokyo Gendai this year and, to coincide with the fair, it will again host Tennoz Art Week 2024. The event will feature a new work by Japanese contemporary artist Tabaimo, along with three animation artists in the Warehouse’s space, as well as a range of exhibitions introducing the works of contemporary Japanese craft artists and workshops using traditional art materials.

Tennoz Art Week 2023
Tomoko Mukaiyama Figurante for Tennoz Art Week 2023

Kohei Terada, CEO of Warehouse Terrada since in 2019, described the company’s guiding principles.

“If we can fill in the gaps in the ecosystem of art in Japan, the art market will be further stimulated, and many more people than just the affluent will be able to enjoy art on a daily basis,” Terada said. “If we can support both the creation of an era in which the value of happiness is diversified and a society of abundance engendered thereby, even if the road ahead is long and rocky, the fruits of these efforts will ultimately flow back to the storage business that is our company’s mainstay. Based on this thinking, we have developed our business with the aim of supplying the missing pieces in the current ecosystem.”

While it does seem to be the case that the number of companies incorporating art as a part of their corporate social responsibility or via corporate patronage has been on the rise in Japan, Warehouse Terrada has made substantial efforts towards the establishment of an art-based economic sphere, using Tennozu as a testing ground to support artists. Such support is necessary when one considers that, according to the METI report, the average annual income for artists in Japan is 2.8 million yen, or approximately $17,700. As such, one of Warehouse Terrada’s flagship projects is the biennial Terrada Art Award.

Terrada Art Award 2023
Exhibit by Mitsuo Kim in Terrada Art Award 2023 Finalist Exhbition

Terada, who himself experienced both tribulation and success as a tech entrepreneur before taking on the family business, explained the unique nature of the award.

“What sets our award apart is that to each of five finalists selected via a lengthy screening process, we provide 3 million yen of funding and the opportunity to display their new work in a finalists exhibition,” Terada said.

“The reason that we decided against a format of awarding a prize to a specific piece of work is that we wanted the artists to be liberated from constraints on production funds, display venue and the like, to set their sights on a future they had yet to experience, and to make their breakthrough. We were also hopeful that the audience, including ourselves, would also be able to draw great inspiration from viewing works created under these conditions.”

In 2023, the Terrada art award finalists included Mitsuo Kim, Yuma Tomiyasu, Yuki Harada, Satoshi Murakami, and yang02. These five artists were unanimous in their positive appraisal of the novel challenge of both designing the exhibition space and producing artworks to fill it.

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Pigment Tokyo
Pigment Tokyo

Another venture that merits equal attention to the award in terms of Warehouse Terrada’s efforts to support artists is the art supply store and laboratory, Pigment Tokyo, which opened in 2015. Just stepping into this shop and seeing the thousands of pigments arrayed on shelves across an entire wall, not to mention the numerous exquisite brushes made of various materials, should be enough to stir the heart of even the least artistically inclined. Terada is proud to relate that Pigment Tokyo, which also serves as a conduit between Japanese producers of rare pigments and the overseas market. Further, a team of young artists plays a crucial role in the day-to-day running of the business. As users of these art materials well-versed in their unique attributes, they make excellent salespeople, and this knowledge is also extremely important from the viewpoint of cultural preservation.

Terrada Art Studio Kyoto

“We want them to keep discovering new avenues of expression using these materials, and to thereby further encourage the use of Japanese art supplies around the world,” Terada said.

Further, workshops and lectures are regularly held at Pigment Tokyo for children and companies utilizing their know-how on multicolor techniques and materials.

These endeavors by Warehouse Terrada on behalf of artists are also now reaching beyond Tennozu and Tokyo. The most recent example of this is a rental atelier and artwork storage repository due to open this year on the new campus of the Kyoto City University of Arts, following the university’s relocation in October last year.

Kyoto, of course, is already internationally renowned as Japan’s foremost historical city of culture and art, but it has also become a center for education in the fine arts, with twelve universities providing education in such disciplines, including Kyoto City University of Arts and the Kyoto University of the Arts. At the same time, this ancient city holds annual art events and fairs such as the Kyotographie international photography festival, the Art Collaboration Kyoto fair, and the Artists’ Fair Kyoto. It is now gaining worldwide recognition as a venue for the exhibition of contemporary art. Consequently, it is increasingly the case that artists graduating from Kyoto’s educational institutions choose to remain in and make Kyoto their professional base, in turn increasing the demand for creation space and storage facilities. It is in this context that Warehouse Terrada decided to set up the rental atelier Terrada Art Studio Kyoto, which offers artists a comfortable environment for creative work, and the repository Terrada Art Storage Kyoto.

“While we have hitherto been engaged in activities linked to the support of art collectors and galleries via various businesses, within our objective of vitalizing the art market, a central aim has been to give Japanese artists the necessary back-up to take flight in the world at large,” Terada said. “This new enterprise in Kyoto is an important next step in bringing us closer to this goal. By supporting artists working in Kyoto while strengthening links with universities and other research institutions and with local communities, we hope to make a significant contribution to the vitality of the Japanese art market.”

With a view to its ongoing evolution, how might the Japanese art industry take inspiration from Warehouse Terrada’s various art-related enterprises, including this establishment of a new center of operations outside of Tennozu? Observers and stakeholders in Japan and around the world will surely be following developments with great interest.


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