“We are all born to play.” This famous line is from the Ryojin Hisho, a late twelfth-century collection of popular songs. In that spirit, this exhibition focuses on play, amusements, merrymaking as a theme in art. Games like sugoroku, a board game related to backgammon, or karuta, playing card games, dance, even fashion: men and women always become enthusiastically absorbed in enjoying all sorts of amusements. But their content changes over time. In this exhibition, famous seventeenth-century paintings and prints on the subject of recreation guide us to a deeper understanding of play in human life. Our fore-bearers made merry, sometimes artlessly, sometimes languorously. Let us imagine what merrymaking meant for them and what their secrets were for enjoying life in the floating world.


The 50th anniversary of the Suntory Foundation for the Arts
Styles of Play: The History of Merrymaking in Art

June 26 to August 18, 2019

*There will be an exhibition change during the course of exhibition
*Download the list of changes in works on display

Play is a universal part of human life. In paintings, it is a theme, ancient and modern, linked to lifestyles. As though resonating with a verse from the Ryojin hisho (Songs to Make the Dust Dance), a song collection from the late Heian period (12th century), the Customs, Month by Month folding screen paintings painted in the middle ages and early modern period, share amusements with us. Seeing them makes us almost hear the innocent joyful shouts of children enjoying themselves throughout the year, playing at shuttlecock and battledore or having fun in the snow, and the music accompanying the group absorbed in furyu dancing.
The Chinese scholar-gentleman’s the Four Arts—playing the kin (a stringed instrument), Go, calligraphy, and painting— were absorbed into Japanese culture from the middle ages on and became a favorite subject for fusuma (sliding door) and folding screen paintings. Over time, that set of accomplishments evolved. The shamisen replaced the kin and the backgammon-like game sugoroku replaced Go in the many “house of pleasure” paintings produced in the Edo period. The Four Arts also lived on as a stylish framework for parodic allusions when depicting people enjoying themselves.
The many paintings of outdoor amusements and indoor merrymaking produced in the Momoyama period (16th - 17th century). One subject that appears repeatedly is people setting out for a banquet during, for example, cherry-blossom-viewing season. Another is women dancing, wearing gorgeous kosode garments and holding fans in their hands. Imported games such as sugoroku and card games took root in Japan and evolved in many ways over the years. Viewing those developments from the perspective of the cultural history of people and play is endlessly fascinating.
This exhibition focuses on the forms merrymaking takes in the history of Japanese art, bringing together in one setting a veritable map of play, a valuable depiction of the amusements enjoyed in each period that also traces their lineages. We hope you will also take pleasure in experiencing the historical changes in individual types of amusement that, while evolving over time, pique truly playful hearts.


June 26 to August 18, 2019

*There will be an exhibition change during the course of exhibition
*Download the list of changes in works on display


10:00-18:00 *Friday and Saturday 10:00-20:00

*Open until 20:00 on July 14 and August 11
*Last admission: 30 minutes before closing



*Open until 18:00 on August 13
*shop×cafe will be open daily during a period of an exhibition.

Adult General ¥1,300 Advance ¥1,100
College and High School Student General ¥1,000 Advance ¥800

Elementary, junior high school students and under are free.
*With a certificate of disability, the admission fee of a disabled person and a care-giver will be waived.
*Advance tickets will be available at the museum reception desk during opening hours from April 27 to June 2.


◇100 Yen Discount
•For presenting a coupon downloaded from our website
•For displaying a coupon on your smartphone
•For presenting a ticket to a thematic exhibition at the National Art Center, Tokyo, or Mori Art Museum
•For parties of 20 or more

*Only one discount per person

Audio Guide

¥550 (English Available)

Organized by

Suntory Museum of Art, The Asahi Shimbun Company

Sponsored by

Mitsui Fudosan Co.,Ltd, Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Co.,Ltd, Suntory Holdings Limited