With Tokyo being one of the most historically diverse cities on Earth—where the ancient and the traditional meet the artistic and the neon modern in repeatedly dazzling ways—it’s unsurprising that Tokyo plays host to so many fantastic museums. Interactive art museums, museums dedicated to warriors, and modern pop culture museums make up the breadth of museums available to those visiting and exploring Tokyo.
One of the first digital art museums in the world; this multi-sensory space quickly garnered a lot of attention, particularly among photography lovers. Located in the entertainment hub of Odaiba, TeamLab Borderless offers an interactive art experience using light and touch to create interactive worlds to get lost in. If you visit the museum as a pair or group, you can also enjoy creating worlds together which adds an extra layer of fun. As the experience is dynamic and ever-changing, no two visits will ever be alike but always memorable. Tickets can be booked on their website or bought in person.
Tucked away in Shinjuku, this gem of a museum will take you through 700 years of history featuring Japan’s fascinating warriors: the samurai. You can only go through the museum by guided tour, which you can join from the front desk, then you are led through a private collection of armor, weapons, and paintings with an expert guide teaching you as you go. You’ll also see a live performance of masterful moves using the katana (hourly between 2 and 5 p.m.) and try on some armor for yourself. You can also visit the museum shop which has a selection of unique samurai related souvenirs.
Tokyo National Museum
Considered to be the oldest museum in Japan, this is where you can learn about Japan’s long history and culture as well as its art since it’s also considered the largest art museum in the world. With more than 110,000 permanent items, there’s plenty to see, but there are also temporary exhibitions which change throughout the year. It’s located in Ueno park which has plenty to see in itself and lights up with cherry blossoms or red leaves depending on the season. The museum is closed on Mondays.
Meguro Parasitological Museum
This is truly one of the more quirky, or possibly downright gross, museums in Tokyo that still manages to be incredibly interesting. The Parasitological Medical Museum is where you can see the longest tapeworm in the world (8.8 meters long!) as well as a host of other nasties stored in jars, scientific records, tropical bugs, and more spread over three floors. Entry is free and will give you plenty to talk about afterward.
The Ghibli Museum
Dedicated to the studio that has brought us animation classics like Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro, and Princess Mononoke, this is a whimsical visit and one of the best things you can do while in Tokyo. Set in a magical mansion, you make your way through set-pieces, never-seen-before animation, life-size statues, and more. You don’t need to be a fan of the films to appreciate the passion that has gone into this space. You have to book ahead for this one, ideally by several months (details are available on their website) as they sell out straight away and no tickets are sold at the museum itself.
Kites have a long history in Japan and stepping into the Kite Museum, a private collection gathered lovingly by enthusiast Shingo Modegi, is like stepping into wonderland. Colors, pictures ranging from yokai to geisha and koi fish, strings to duck under, and a wealth of history in front of you told through flags from across Japan’s long history as well as some from across Asia and Europe. This is a truly unique museum, found in Nihonbashi near Ginza and very worth ducking into.
Step back in time into Edo period Japan (1603–1868) and learn about their crafts, politics, lifestyle, and more all while exploring a replica Edo street, vehicles, and life-size figures. Both permanent and temporary exhibits are featured in the museum and with five floors to explore, there’s plenty to discover about one of Japan’s most fascinating periods.
Yayoi Kusama Museum
Jump into a world of color and surreality at this museum dedicated to one of Japan’s most famous contemporary artists. Journey through the timeline of her work and learn how about her inspirations, struggles, and experiences. Highlights include the infinity rooms which Yayoi Kusama is famous for, using mirrors to create an endless image. Don’t miss the library or the rooftop garden for some spectacular views. You have to buy tickets in advance through the website and choose an allocated time, and booking as far ahead as possible is advisable. The museum is closed Monday to Wednesday.
Mori Art Museum
Perfectly placed in modern and glamorous Roppongi, the Mori Art Museum exhibits some of the most prominent modern art and design exhibitions from Japanese and international artists. Exhibitions are always thought-provoking and forward-looking and focus on pushing boundaries within the space. Keep an eye on the website for upcoming installations. Being on the 53rd floor of the Mori building, one of the tallest in buildings in the city, means you’re also treated to superb views over Tokyo.
Tokyo Photographic Art Museum
Read about the history of optics, learn camera tricks, and see a showcase of some of the best photography that exists today. Seeing Japan through the years via a camera lens is a rare treat and camera enthusiasts will be doubly inspired with rare and vintage cameras on display.
This museum is a celebration of visual expression while also serving as an education space with classes and workshops available if booked in advance.