When you hear the word ‘museum’, it’s not not unusual to think of dusty displays and long-winded descriptions, but Tokyo does things differently.
If your first reaction when you hear the word ‘museum’ is a distinct sinking of the heart followed by flashbacks to rainy Sundays spent trailing after parents who retained an unfair level of interest in maritime history after 2 floors, you may want to read on. Museums are different now. There has been an epiphany, a miraculous and exciting change: they can be fun, they can be interesting, and they can be hella weird too. Tokyo has been flexible in its approach to classifying places as museums, to say the least. While there are plenty of great and informative history museums, there are also some more unconventional types with a pretty hands-on way to experience things. So let’s take a trip down the weird and wonderful rabbit holes that are Tokyo’s most unusual museums…
Meguro Parasitological Museum
Trying to convert someone to vegetarianism? Desperate to strengthen your resolve in the face of sushi and yakitori? Head to Meguro Parasitological Museum to see tapeworms the length of buses and you’ll never look at that red meat in the same way again. Or maybe you are of stronger stuff than me, but this is a real tour through the horrors of parasites. Normally, it can be somewhat frustrating when there’s no English provided in museums here, but this time you may be thankful, and as they say—a picture is worth a thousand words (and this time it’s a thousand words more than you ever wanted).
Meguro Parasitological Museum
A larger-than-life museum, the Ghibli wonderland provides a walk-through experience of the animation world and the development of the many loved creations you’ll recognize. With an open-air section and plenty of amazing rooms filled with working zoetropes, this is genuinely a joyous experience for everyone, whatever the age. The real bonus is the cinema which screens a rotation of short-films unavailable anywhere else in the world. You may learn here, but you might not even notice. Also, the museum shop here has a hell of a lot more than erasers and novelty pencils, be strong, or you may have to remortgage that non-existent house you have.
Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum
So taking the concept of a museum pretty far, this place is very much about the experience, and much less about reading anything (aside from menus—so no complaints here). Created to give the Showa-era experience, you will walk into a gloomy, dusk-like Showa townscape, complete with alleyways to explore, sweets shops, bars and, most importantly, ramen. There are 9 restaurants carefully selected from around Japan to provide an insight into the culinary development of the nation’s favorite dish. With taster dishes to try, English menus, vegetarian options and a lot of fun, this is perfect for a rainy day. You can read more about it here!
Shinyokohama Raumen Museum
Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum
Another ramen museum, yes, but this one is definitely more like an actual museum. Celebrating the life of Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant ramen to the point of practical sainthood, this museum, and its twin in Osaka have everything from recreated houses showing his development, to walls of ramen through the ages, to videos and models of famous spacemen eating the noodles in zero gravity. You can join the Chicken Ramen Factory and make ramen from scratch or fill up on a variety of ramen at the Noodles Bazaar on the 4th floor. While the place is bright and modern with plenty of interactive displays, the best bit might be the My Cup Ramen Factory where you can design both the cup and contents of your own special student staple before and watch it go through the various heat-sealing contraptions to come out as your own official brand.
Cup Noodles Museum
Tobacco and Salt Museum
What this museum gains in its traditional museum style, it loses in its odd choice of contents. Why salt and tobacco you ask? We may never know. Are neither quite worth an independent museum? Did someone have dreams of a fusion creation? Whatever the reason, this place offers an insight into the world of two products once controlled in a monopoly by the Japanese government. Jokes aside, they have a great selection of ukiyo-e prints and original boxes which are great examples of trade and the market of the past. You can explore the history of these products and their roles in human history and culture as well as other special exhibitions which are loosely connected. With permanent exhibitions like “The World of Salt” which focuses on the difference between Japanese and foreign salt—who can say no (especially at 100 yen a pop)?
Tobacco and Salt Museum
Meaning downtown, shitamachi refers to the narrow alleys and backstreets of Tokyo which were once filled with shops, dealers and vendors as well as the throngs of busy people running errands. This small museum recreates the atmosphere and living conditions of the old-fashioned Tokyo to transport you back in time. With a carefully reproduced street including a merchant’s house and a row of small tenement houses, you’ll see a different side to Tokyo. On the next floor are materials and information about the way of life at the time, as well as an area for playing with old-fashioned toys. Located in Ueno Park and only a 5-minute walk from the station, this is a great place to pop into to learn a little!
The Criminal Materials Department at Meiji University Museum
For those with an interest in the macabre, head over to Meiji University Museum for a grim look into the history of crime and punishment in Japan. You can follow the development chronologically, with tempting exhibition titles including “Culprits of the Edo Period,” “Torture and Tribunal” and “Execution and Correction”. Using real artifacts from throughout the ages, you can even see a genuine French guillotine and a replica of the iron maiden of Rothenburg. While the tools of torture on display are long out of use, seeing this kind of exhibition in a country that still uses the death penalty is a pretty chilling experience. The museum is a short walk from JR Ochanomizu Station and is free to enter.
Meiji University Museum
Tokyo Sewerage Museum “Rainbow”
Although you may think we are literally scraping the barrel here, this museum is very interactive, free to enter and definitely provides an unusual glimpse into an unseen part of Tokyo’s day-to-day life. Located in a very fancy building in Odaiba, this is a public relations facility and is part of the Metropolitan Government Bureau of Sewage. You can experience working in sewerage pumps, pumping stations, the water-monitoring lab and see the central monitoring room.