Where the boundaries between “museum” and “experience” are boldly crossed.
If you’re visiting Tokyo for the food, modern pop culture, and neon lights; “museums” may be the last thing you’d add in your already-packed to-do list. But give the ones here a chance. These five exhibitions are not only historical and educational, they contain an inherent spark of playfulness which is sure to leave you open-mouthed in either joy or awe, or both. For the rest of your stay in Tokyo, the city will be under a changed set of lights — from the way Japanese people imagine fantastical stories to the mechanics of the subway system — you will see everything.
Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum
3 Chome-7-1 Sakuracho, Koganei, Tokyo 184-0005, Japan
This museum is more a park which also serves as a time machine as it (literally) walks you through the modern history of Japan by architectural storytelling. Structures are reimagined from the late 19th-century and onwards, taking you through the continuous struggles and triumphs of Japanese urban planning as they pulled through natural disasters and WWII.
2 Chome-14-21 Shinyokohama, Kohoku Ward, Yokohama, Kanagawa 222-0033, Japan
Located in Yokohama, a half-hour train ride from downtown Tokyo, the Ramen Museum is dedicated to perhaps Asia’s most popular comfort food — ramen. Not only do you get to taste some of the most prestigious ramen flavors in the country, the entire exhibit is laid out in such a way to depict Tokyo’s neon-buzzing night scene in the post-war Showa era. Here, the slightly older generation in Japan feel transported to their childhood; the newer generation and foreign visitors, rather, experience a fantasy.
Tokyo Metro Museum
6 Chome-3-1 Higashikasai, Edogawa City, Tokyo 134-0084, Japan
Spend a day exploring Tokyo, and you will be dumbstruck by the intricacy and sheer extensiveness of the city’s subway system. No surprise there — the larger Tokyo metropolitan area is the biggest city in the world. Take your fascination further and visit the Metro Museum. Here, you can walk through the history of the subway in Tokyo and try your hand driving at one of the popular simulators.
1 Chome-1-83 Shimorenjaku, Mitaka, Tokyo 181-0013, Japan
If you’ve obsessed over Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, or any of the other world-renowned Studio Ghibli animations — look no further. Here is a cozy museum designed like a house stuck somewhere in between Europe, Japan, and something else entirely, that will tug on all of your Ghibli heartstrings. Climb atop and feel the fur of the Cat Bus under your fingers, say hello to the life-size robot from Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Adorn your bag and desk with the myriad Ghibli-character keychains and other artifacts collected in the museum shop.
Team Lab Borderless
Japan, 〒135-0064 Tokyo, Koto City, Aomi, 1 Chome−3−8 お台場パレットタウン
This art exhibition is unlike any other you have been to, and is also perhaps the newest conception of what an art exhibition could be. Created by the international, collective effort of artists, programmers, animators, architects, and other experts, TeamLab Borderless is a collection of wide rooms that pull you into stunning worlds of light and color, and is a must if you keep a photogenic Instagram profile. While each exhibit paints a unique feeling, they are united under the theme of borderlessness — the continuity of life and of you with the physical world.