When traveling to Tokyo, people don’t often have as their first priority spending their time tucked away in a museum. Instead, they’re probably hoping to take in the city’s natural beauties, go shopping in Akihabara, or perhaps check out the kooky fashion in Harajuku. It’s common for visitors to reserve their cultural injection for the more outwardly ‘traditional’ areas of Japan, by going temple-hopping in Kyoto or in the ancient capital of Tenri, Nara.
Whether you’re a visitor or a local, though, Tokyo museums needn’t be an afterthought or an activity reserved solely for rainy days. Tokyo has a wealth of museums giving glimpses into Japan’s rich and diverse history, from artifacts of the Jomon period to delicate screens and lacquered boxes in the Rinpa-style favored by citizens of the Edo period. For those who are more contemporary-minded, Tokyo has a prolific artistic community patronized by an impressive number of smaller museums and galleries showcasing homegrown artists like Suga Kishio and Nawa Kohei.
Regardless of how commonplace or unique your interests are, you can bet that Tokyo has a museum that will tickle your fancy. For those who want to be in the know, let us be your guide to some of the best museums to visit in Tokyo. Even better, we’ll provide you with a list of days when admission is free. So sit back, scroll down, and start organizing your next outing to a museum in Tokyo.
As its name suggests, the Edo-Tokyo Museum has as its particular focus studying the history of Japan’s Edo/Tokugawa era (1603-1868). A massive warehouse-like space with a ceiling height of 62.2 meters, the Edo-Tokyo Museum has, as one of its main attractions, a life-size replica of Nihonbashi Bridge. This bridge leads down to a miniature model of Edo City as it would have looked during the reign of the Tokugawa shogunate. Go down to the fifth floor and you’ll find Nakamura Theater, featuring scheduled performances by entertainers singing and juggling objects to the delight of visitors.
The permanent exhibition of Edo-Tokyo Museum also includes an area giving comprehensive information on the transition of Tokyo into an industrialized city, as well as its increasing westernization during the Meiji period. The ‘Tokyo Zone’ also includes sections on the Great Kanto Earthquake and its aftermath, including the massive reconstruction efforts involved in the rehabilitation of Tokyo.
Complimentary services at the Edo-Tokyo Museum include volunteer guides, but it is recommended that you reserve this at least two weeks prior to your planned visit. There is also a reference library located on the 7th floor for all those TC bookworms out there.
Key Info: Admission for adults is 600 yen, while admission is free for those with disabilities and their attendants and those under welfare assistance. There are reduced rates for schoolgoers and pensioners.
Opening Hours: 9:30 am – 5:30 pm (until 7:30 pm on Saturdays), closed on Mondays
Access: JR Sobu Line Ryogoku Station (West exit, 3-minute walk)/Toei Oedo Line Ryogoku Station (A4 exit, 1 minute walk)
Address: 1-4-1 Yokoami, Sumida, Tokyo 130-0015
Tokyo National Museum
The Tokyo National Museum has a number of special exhibitions organized each year, upcoming exhibits include Unkie: The Great Master of Buddhist Sculpture (Sept 26th – Nov 26th) and Treasures from Ninnaji Temple and Omuro (Jan 16th 2018 – March 11th 2018). The permanent collection at the Tokyo National Museum is no less interesting, with artifacts from the Three Kingdoms Period (5th-6th centuries) and statues of the Buddha from within and outside of Japan being some of its priceless items.
Entry to the museum for its permanent exhibitions is 620 yen for adults, although admission is free on International Museum Day (usually May 18) and Respect for the Aged Day (the third Monday of September).
Cheapo tip: If you absolutely LOVE the museums, you can get a ¥5,000 annual pass that offers unlimited entry to the regular exhibition at Tokyo National Museum (along with the national museums in Kyoto, Nara and Kyushu) + 4 tickets to special exhibitions at the TNM. You can apply online for it here.
Key Info: Admission for adults is 620 yen (permanent exhibits only), and free on International Museum Day (May 18) and Respect for the Aged Day (third Monday of September)
Opening Hours: 9:30 am – 5:00 pm daily; usually closed on Mondays; extended hours during special events – see the website.
Access: 10 minutes walk from JR Ueno or Uguisudami Station/15 minutes walk from Ueno Subway Station (Ginza Tokyo Metro Line and Hibiya Tokyo Metro Line)/15 minutes walk from Nezu Subway Station (Chiyoda Tokyo Metro Line)/15 minutes walk from Keisei Ueno Station (Keisei Line)
Address: 13-9 Ueno-koen, Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-8712
National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (MOMAT)
Visiting MOMAT is an absolute must for fans of 20th-century art. MOMAT provides glimpses into some of this century’s most iconic aesthetic movements, featuring works by the likes of the Dutch abstract expressionist, Willem de Kooning (Woman in Landscape, 1966), and the polymorphic, wild, and lurid shapes characteristic of Wassily Kandinsky’s later paintings (The Whole, 1940).
Get up close and personal with Walker Evans’ arresting Depression-era photographs of working-class families from Alabama (Interior of Floyd Burroughs’ Cabin, Alabama, 1936) and witness the hauntingly desolate and near-apocalyptic landscapes of the Australian outback by Arthur Boyd (The Australian Scapegoat, 1987). The museum also demonstrates the influence of Western contemporary artists on Japanese artists and vice versa, featuring numerous works by the multimedia artist Yayoi Kusama (A Signpost to Hades, 1976), and the surrealist Ai-Mitsu (Moths, 1941, and Landscape with an Eye, 1938).
MOMAT is also home to Japan’s National Film Center (NFC), which, in addition to its vast collection of film-related materials, holds regular film screenings. The Crafts Gallery is also part of MOMAT, displaying ceramics, textiles, and other designs by local and other artists from the 19th-century to the present day.
Key Info: FREE admission on the first Sunday of every month, as well as on International Museum Day (usually May 18) and Culture Day (November 3); on regular days, the price of admission for adults is 430 yen.
Opening Hours: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm (until 8:00 pm on Fridays); closed on Mondays
Access: 3 minutes walk from 1B exit, Takebashi Station (Subway Tozai Line)
Address: 3-1 Kitanomaru-koen, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 102-8322
National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo
The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo offers free admission for visitors on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month, as well as on November 3 of every year (permanent collection only). Unlike its sister museum, MOMAT, which gives the floor to emerging as well as contemporary celebrities of the artistic world, the National Museum of Western Art presents works by preeminent masters spanning nearly 800 years of art in Western culture. You’ll find exemplars of pointillism in the form of Camille Pissarro’s Conversation (1881), one of Claude Monet’s Water Lilies paintings (1916), and Baroque masterpieces such as Peter Paul Rubens’ Two Sleeping Children (1612-13) in the Museum’s permanent collection.
Key Info: Admission for adults is 500 yen for the permanent exhibition. Admission is free on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month, and on November 3.
Opening Hours: 9:30 am – 5:30 pm; closed on Mondays; Friday 9:30 am – 8:00 pm
Access: 1 minute walk from JR Ueno Station, Park Exit (JR Yamanote Line)/7 minutes walk from Keisei Ueno Station (Keisei Line)/8 minutes walk from Ueno Station (Ginza and Hibiya Subway Lines)
Address: 7-7 Uenokoen, Taito, Tokyo 110-0007
The whimsical narratives, anthropomorphic creatures, and intricately-rendered animations of Hayao Miyazaki are cherished by many. The Ghibli Museum is your chance to enter the fantastical world of Miyazaki’s films in a building that is nestled in the verdant scenery of Inokashira Park, Mitaka.
Immerse yourself in Miyazaki’s artistic process by entering his workshop, aptly called ‘Where a Film Is Born’. Here you will find numerous stills and storyboards from his films, including Princess Mononoke and Ponyo. Become mesmerized by the Totoro zoetrope on the ground floor and wind your way up to the rooftop garden via the internal iron staircase. Once on top of the roof, get a picture of yourself with the massive Robot Soldier and the command cube, both from [Laputa] Castle in the Sky. There is also a life-size replica of the Cat Bus from My Neighbor Totoro, which children can enjoy!
Visitors receive as part of their admission package entry into the Saturn Theater, where they can watch a short animated feature by Studio Ghibli. Entry into the Ghibli Museum costs 1,000 yen for adults, and you can purchase tickets from Lawson convenience stores via their ‘Loppi’ kiosk machine or their online service, as well as through travel guides if coming from abroad. There are no ticket sales at the museum itself, so be sure to get them well in advance.
Key Info: Tickets may be reserved up to three months in advance of one’s visit, and are made available on the 10th day of each month; entry times are staggered. Entry is 1,000 yen for adults and discounted for kids.
Opening Hours: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm; closed on Tuesdays
Access: From Mitaka Station (South Exit), take a bus to Ghibli Museum from bus stop no. 9 (210yen for a one-way trip)
Address: 1-1-83 Simorenjaku, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181-0013
Mori Art Museum
The Mori Art Museum always has a schedule that is jam-packed with exhibitions by some of the most exciting artists on the contemporary (and old!) scene. For example, the current exhibition titled “SUNSHOWER: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now” has an incredible selection of works displaying the dynamic and diverse culture of Southeast Asia. It is the largest ever exhibition of its kind explores the many practices of contemporary art and showcases the dynamism and nostalgic combination the area holds. You can buy an advance joint ticket for the Mori Art Museum and the National Art Center for 1,600, on the day for 1800 or a single ticket for 1000 yen.
Key Information: 1000 yen for adults (single ticket, 1600 for joint), discounted tickets for kids
Opening Hours: 10:00 am-10:00 pm everyday except Tuesdays; Tuesdays 10:00 – 5:00 pm
Access: 1-minute walk from Roppongi Hills Exit, Roppongi Station (Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line)/4 minutes walk from Roppongi Station (Toei Oedo Line)/5-minute walk from Azabu-Juban Station (Toei Oedo Line)
Address: 53F Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, 6-10-1 Roppongi Hills, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-6150
The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (MIRAIKAN)
Learn more about our world and outer space by visiting the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. Created by the national Science and Technology Agency, Miraikan’s permanent exhibitions are divided according to three zones, each of which demonstrates how human beings interact with the built, information, and natural environments. Highlights include the ‘Geo-Cosmos’, a 1/2 millionth-size replica of the Earth created by organic LED panels and the humanoid robot ‘ASIMO’, the ‘Science Communicator’ of Miraikan. Be sure to walk through the full-scale model of the ‘Shinkai 6500,’ a manned research submersible which is used to explore the ocean at depths of 200 meters and beyond.
Key Info: Free admission for all visitors on Friday and Saturday during Science and Technology Week (April), Miraikan’s Anniversary (July 9th), and the Saturday during Education and Culture Week (November 4th, 2017). Cheapos aged 18 or under can get in for free every Saturday as well as Children’s day (May 5th). Those over the age of 65 can visit for free on Respect for the Aged Day (Sept 18th 2017). Regular admission costs 620 yen for adults.
Opening Hours: 10:00 am-5:00 pm Wednesday to Monday, Closed Tuesdays
Access: 5-minute walk from Fune-no Kagakukan Station or 4 minutes walk from Telecom Centre Station (Tokyo Waterfront New Transit Yurikamome)/15 minutes walk from Tokyo Teleport Station (Tokyo Waterfront Area Rapid Transit Rinkai Line)
Address: 2-3-6 Aomi, Koto-ku, Tokyo 135-0064
The National Art Center
Unlike other museums that are part of the Independent Administrative Institution National Museum of Art, the National Art Center does not have any permanent collections; instead, it is a museum which uses its 14,000 square meters of space to host various displays and exhibits throughout the year. Currently, the National Art Center is co-hosting the SUNSHOWER exhibition of contemporary art from Southeast Asia along with the Mori Art Museum (Until Oct 23rd). The next exhibition will be Tadao Ando: Endeavors – a display of works by unconventional boxer-turned architect and urban guerrilla, Tadao Ando (Spet 27th – December 18th 2017).
Key Info: Price of admission varies depending on the exhibition
Opening Hours: 10:00am – 6:00pm on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; 10:00 am – 8:00pm Fridays and Saturdays; closed on Tuesdays
Access: 4 minutes walk from Roppongi Station Exit 7 (Toei Oedo Line)/5 minutes walk from Roppongi Station Exit 4A (Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line)/Nogizaka Station Exit 6 (Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line)
Address: 7 Chome-22-2 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo 106-8558
If you want to see ALL OF THE MUSEUMS EVER, take a few minutes to find out what the Grutt Pass is—it could save you many yens.
This article was originally published in March 2015. Last update: Sept 2017.
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Tokyo and Japan have a reputation for the strange and unusual museums.