If you’re travelling to a big city like Tokyo, you should learn more about the cultural heritage of Japan. Like many other capitals around the world, Tokyo is home to plenty of museums where you can learn more about the history of Japan.
From contemporary art to historical artefacts, Tokyo has tonnes of places where you can learn more about art, history, and Japanese culture.
In this article, we’re looking at Tokyo’s best museums and art galleries and cultural attractions you should visit whilst in the capital. If you love art, history or culture, you’re going to love these museums.
Tokyo National Museum
The Tokyo National Museum in the Taito ward in the north of Tokyo. It’s been open since 1872, making it one of the world’s oldest museums. On the inside, you can find tonnes of Asian art and plenty of historical pieces. There are 117,000 pieces and 89 national treasures. These permanent and temporary collections are among the best in Japan and the world.
There are pieces including:
- Archaeological pieces
- Weapons and armour
- Lacquer art
- Textile arts
- Decorative arts
If you want to go, expect to pay around £4 to get in.
Mori Art Museum
The Mori Art Museum is located in Roppongi Hills in the Roppongi Hils Mori Tower. This is a contemporary art museum that hosts nonconformist art from young Asian artists. The museum highlights a wide range of artists, making it one of the most interesting art galleries in the capital
You can find the museum on the 53rd and 54th floors of the tower and the collections regularly change. Of all the artists on display, you’ll find famous artists like Ai Weiwei, Bill Viola, or Tokujin Yoshioka.
Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum
The Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum is made up of 30 different buildings from the Edo to Shōwa era. It’s located in Koganei Park in Tokyo and has been open since 1993. The museum has three main zones:
- East Zone: a replica Edo and Shōwa era neighbourhood.
- West Zone: houses with thatched rooves from the Meiji to Shōwa eras.
- Central Zone: Visitor centre, Edo-, Meiji-, and Taishō-era buildings.
You can visit all the buildings and you just need to take your shoes off when you go in. Furthermore, the restaurants are great. You can enjoy Japanese specialities in the East Zone and western food in the West Zone. It should be mentioned that Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki took inspiration for Spirited Away from this park.
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This museum has almost the same name as the previous as it’s a branch of the previous museum. The Edo-Tokyo Museum is in Ryogoku and was built in 1993 to highlight the capital’s historic heritage. The interior of this museum is incredible with Edo, Meiji, and Shōwa architecture.
In this museum, you can discover traditional Japanese houses, Kabuki theatre, and even the first Japanese cars.
The Edo-Tokyo Museum has plenty of models that aren’t as impressive as the replicas but they will give you an idea of these ancient buildings. Finally, you can’t visit this museum without heading to the Nihonbashi bridge from the 17th century.
The Nezu Museum is a beautiful art museum in the Minato district in Tokyo which is home to Nezu Kaichiro’s private collection of historic and artistic pieces. In the museum, you’ll find:
- The Nezu Garden
- Buddhist sculptures
- Ancient Chinese and Japanese art
- Paint rollers
- Textile art and kimonos
- Utensils for tea ceremonies
There are a lot of things to see and make sure you check the Shibuya and Akihabara exhibits to see the museum in all its glory.
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Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum
The Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum is a former palace that’s been converted into a museum. This art deco building was constructed by French artist Henri Rapin at the request of Prince Yasuhiko Asaka in the 1920s.
It was decorated by French artists like René Lalique and Max Ingrand and has a great Franco-Japanese aesthetic worthy of the prince who lived there. There are sculptures, a Japanese garden, and a teahouse.
Also known as the MORI Building Digital Art Museum, TeamLab Borderless is an interactive digital art gallery located on the artificial island of Odaiba. While the gallery is only a year old, it’s become an unmissable attraction in the south of Tokyo.
Across 10,000m2, visitors can discover many great installations that make use of light to create incredible artworks. The gallery plays on your senses to give you an extraordinary experience.
It’s for the whole family and there are even installations for kids. To book a place, it’s recommended that you book ahead of time. After all, this gallery welcomes 2.5 million visitors a year.
National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, is by the Imperial Palace and Japan’s first national art museum opened in Japan. It’s home to over 13,000 pieces and includes both Japanese and foreign pieces from the start of the 20th century until now.
The 20th century was a tumultuous time for Japanese culture. You can see the rupture between traditional and modern Japan in the art from the 20th century. It’ll cost you around £3.50 to see this museum (half price for children).
Japanese Sword Museum
The Japanese Sword Museum can be found in the Ryogoku neighbourhood of Tokyo. As the name suggests, this museum focuses on swords and swordmaking. You can discover various Japanese swords from katanas to tachi from the Kamakura era to the Edo era.
The guided tour might be a bit short if you’re not that into swords but if you are, it’s worth it. Similarly, the Samurai Museum in Shinjuku perfectly complements a visit to this museum.
Looking for something more thrilling?
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The Ghibli Museum
In the Kichijōji neighbourhood in Musashino in the west of Tokyo, you can visit the museum designed by Hayao Miyazaki himself to pay homage to the films of Studio Ghibli. The architecture pays tribute to the different animated films from the studio and fans can have a great time here.
Some of the studio’s most famous films include:
- Spirited Away
- My Neighbour Totoro
- Princess Mononoke
- Howl’s Moving Castle
- Castle in the Sky
- Kiki’s Delivery Service
- Ponyo on the Cliff
- Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
- The Wind Rises
You should buy your tickets before you get there as it’s often sold out or you’ll have to wait. You’ll be welcomed by Totoro and be in for plenty of surprises.
Now that you know a little more about the museums and galleries in the Japanese capital, you can start planning your trip! To learn more about Japan and its main cities, check out our other articles on the subject. You can also get help with your Japanese from one of the many talented tutors on Superprof.
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