Museums were among the first institutions to be hit by the coronavirus outbreak. In less than a month after WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, we sat and witnessed with fear how art institutions around the world cut their business hours before eventually closing their doors for an indefinite period of time.
Japan isn’t an exception. Museums and galleries with a floor space exceeding 1000 square meters were instructed to close temporarily or suspend any ongoing exhibitions under the country’s declaration of a state of emergency. Smaller museums were encouraged to do the same, leaving millions of art fans with yet another cultural deprivation amid the pandemic.
Thanks to Google Art And Culture and other individual initiatives, however, we can still visit many of Japan’s museums — from the comfort of our bed or living rooms. So if you’re a fellow art lover, here is a list of museums, galleries and institutions in Japan that have embraced the digital #stayhome trend and are inviting you to visit their exhibitions virtually. The best thing? This is probably the first time you can “bring” food into a museum!
For museums marked with “*,” enable Street View for the ultimate virtual tour experience.
Japanese, Asian & Western Art
From oil paintings to marble sculptures, it goes without saying that visual arts are by far the most accessible of exhibitions online. Whether you’re interested in ukiyo-e or watercolor, you’ll find some inspiration at any of the following virtual museums.
The Chihiro Art Museum is a small gallery in Tokyo’s Nerima Ward dedicated to illustrator Chihiro Iwasaki (1918-1974), who was famous for her paintings and illustrations of flowers and children. Her world of happy pastel colors is equally soothing and captivating. Chihiro Art Museum’s virtual tour features three exhibitions, including some of Iwasaki’s most famous works.
From traditional Japanese screens to modern art, the Fukuoka Art Museum is a one-stop option for all fields of the visual arts. Enjoy Nihonga, Tomita Kaisen’s scroll paintings and more.
Dedicated to modern Asian art, this museum is a great resource for those interested in seeing what modern art looks like across Asia.
Learn more about Fukuoka City and the rich culture of Kyushu. The museum’s online repertoire includes an interesting variety of Noh masks, for all your theater fans out there.
While not exactly a museum, the Keiko University Library has a few unique ukiyo-e online exhibitions, including a fun virtual exhibition on “Tokyo through funny food ukiyo-e.”
This museum offers an extensive collection of traditional Japanese art.
This museum’s online works focus on Edo-period art and relics.
Insho Domoto was a popular Nihonga artist in the 20th century. This museum is dedicated to his art and features everything from Japanese screens to paintings.
This Kansai museum boasts a collection that ranges from traditional Japanese art to modern portraits.
This museum is one of the few institutions on this list that focuses on Rinpa, one of the major historical schools of Japanese painting.
The Museum of Modern Art, Gunma offers an extensive collection of modern art, with a special selection of impressionist and post-impressionist works.
For a unique curation of modern Japanese art, look no further.
This museum’s online collection has a healthy mix of modern and contemporary European and Japanese art.
Of course, you might be interested in non-Japanese art, as well. The National Museum of Western Art is perfect for that, boasting a collection that focuses on European and North American artists.
Fans of ukiyo-e will fall in love with this museum’s online exhibitions.
You’ll find a little bit of everything here, but mostly beautiful landscapes, some featuring beloved Fuji-san.
This museum has a couple of currently ongoing online exhibitions featuring Chinese ceramics, Renaissance paintings and more.
For everything to do with traditional Japanese art, from ancient pottery to Edo prints, this is the place.
Textiles, historical garments, kimono, colors…you name it. The following virtual tours teach you everything about Japan’s relationship with fashion and its appreciation of western fashion, too.
Discover the art of Ise-katagami, the Japanese craft of making paper stencils for dyeing textiles.
Explore European and Japanese fashion history, the trends of the last century, as well as this port city’s contemporary pursuit of style.
See the influence of Japanese fashion around the globe and learn about fashion history.
Pottery & Ceramics
Japan is a country that still embraces the beauty of pottery and ceramics. There are plenty of places around the country that are well worth the trip if you love tableware (What I’d give to go back to Arita!), but in the meantime, here a few virtual options:
See a selection of ceramics and porcelain pieces from Japan and China.
This museum, located in Moriyama, is home to some of the most amazing Raku ware, a type of Japanese pottery traditionally used during tea ceremonies. Many of the museum’s collections can be seen online.
The ceramics on display at the Sekido Museum of Art come in interesting shapes and are often decorated with intricate and eccentric patterns. A must-browse for anybody who loves colorful ware.
Among the seemingly endless art inspiration now available online, there are also a few other educational and beautiful spaces you can virtually walk through:
If you love Japanese history, particularly the Yayoi, Kofun and Asuka periods, you’ll love this online collection of Haniwa relics.
This museum has a haunting collection of photographs documenting the damage of the August 9, 1945 atomic bombing that destroyed much of the city.
For those interested in anthropology and natural history, check out this Ueno staple.
The famous Sankeien Gardens aren’t a museum per se, but if you’ve been wanting to go on a stroll through a Japanese garden, look no further!
The works exhibited at the Tachibana Museum were passed down to the Tachibana family that controlled the Yanagawa clan throughout the Edo period. For those who like history, this is an absolutely fascinating stop on your virtual museum journey.
Last but not least, you can also enjoy the architecture of some of Japan’s most beautiful museums and buildings through Google Street View — a fantastic way to explore cities around the globe in times of confinement. One of our favorite Tokyo spots that you can visit virtually if you love neo-Baroque style architecture is the Akasaka Palace.*
We hope you’re already making to-see lists for your next museum virtual tour. Enjoy!
In the featured image: The Tokyo National Museum