Tokyo has no shortage of fascinating museums, yet too few of us dare to venture beyond the comfortable confines of Ueno Park and its selection of high-profile attractions. If you step out of your comfort zone, you’ll find magical, unusual and sometimes outright weird museums in Tokyo. They are sure to educate as well as entertain. Here are five of our favorites.
For those of you not enthusiastic about intestinal parasites, this absolute gem of a museum might change your mind.
Opened in 1953 and said to be the only museum of its kind in the world, it’s two floors worth of meticulously preserved specimens. These include parasite-riddled mice and all manner of aquatic lifeforms suspended in tightly sealed jars of formaldehyde.
The first-floor provides a broad overview of the intricacies of parasites generally, while the second-floor deals specifically with their impact on humans. In addition to the museum’s exhibits, their archive holds thousands of books and research papers dealing with the most obscure medical topics imaginable.
The apex of this temple of biological infestation consists of a gargantuan tapeworm extracted from a gentleman who had a longstanding love of consuming raw fish. He thankfully made a full recovery, and all 8.8 meters of his internal burden are on proud display.
If this has somehow not convinced you to visit, then it’s worth pointing out that admission is totally free.
Where: 4-1-1 Shimomeguro, Meguro-ku
When: 10am-5pm | Wed-Sun
Sumida Ward is perhaps best known for being the location of Tokyo Skytree, the tallest manmade structure in Japan. But a short five-minute walk from the imposing tower will take you to a much more niche and perhaps more interesting destination.
Here you can learn about the intrinsic relationship between humanity and sodium chloride. You’ll also learn about the history of tobacco production and consumption. The most striking element of the former section is a replica of a statue carved out of rock salt depicting Saint Kinga of Poland. Also of particular note is the vast array of smoking implements from around the world, which range dramatically in size and appearance based on the culture of their creation.
The second and third floors are dedicated to salt and tobacco respectively. The first floor has an exceptionally well-stocked gift shop filled with smoking trinkets and salt samples from far-flung corners of the globe.
Where: 1-16-3 Yokokawa, Sumida-ku
When: 11am–5pm | Tue-Sun
How much: ¥100 for adults, ¥50 for children and visitors over the age of 65.
The streets of Tokyo are famous for being spotlessly clean and free of unpleasant odors, but they don’t stay that way without a tremendous amount of effort. The toilets of the megalopolis have been the subject of innumerable fluffy articles articulating their futuristic wonders, but where do the remnants of our bento from the convenience store disappear to? The Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Bureau of Sewerage set up this museum in Odaiba to grant us the answer.
Visitors can traverse a life-sized recreation of an actual sewer pipe and gain a detailed understanding of the crucial work undertaken by professionals in the field. Many of the exhibits encourage participation, especially from children. The museum’s mascot, Earth-kun, takes the anthropomorphic form of our planet itself wearing a manhole cover as a hat. As strange as it sounds, the high quality of the presentation is likely to foster genuine curiosity and scientific interest from young learners.
Where: 2-3-5 Ariake, Koto-ku
When: 10am–4pm, Tue–Sun
How much: Free
National Museum of Territory and Sovereignty in Tokyo. pic.twitter.com/mWItEkLdBe
— KONO Taro (@konotaromp) March 31, 2021
Some museums seek to educate by bringing the past to life. Others strive to encapsulate the essence of an artist’s lifelong work. And then there’s The National Museum of Territory and Sovereignty. This particular museum seeks to articulate and advocate for the Japanese government’s territorial claims in ongoing sovereignty disputes with other nations.
Japan’s arguments in favor of ownership of the Liancourt Rocks (referred to as Takeshima by Japan and Dokdo by South Korea), the Senkaku Islands (known as the Diaoyu Islands in China) and Russia’s Kuril Islands (which Japan refers to as “The Northern Territories”) are all outlined in meticulous detail. Historical maps, charts and legal documents are presented to reinforce this point of view.
The contesting nations unsurprisingly issued protestations upon the opening of the museum.
Where: 3−8−1 Kasumigaseki, Chiyoda-ku
When: 10am–6pm | Tue–Sun
How much: Free
5. Kite Museum
The Edo Period ushered in an era of unprecedented peace throughout Japan. This allowed for a number of purely recreational pursuits to flourish. Kite flying was one of the most popular activities at the time and this colorful tradition is admirably honored on the third floor of a popular Nihonbashi restaurant named Taimeiken.
Shingo Modegi, who established the restaurant below, opted to combine his passions for food and kites in one building. Making up for its small space with a huge collection, visitors will find themselves surrounded by a veritable airforce of the most creative and colorful kites. Special emphasis is placed on traditional bamboo and washi (handmade Japanese paper) creations. The museum doubles up as the center of the Japan Kite Association, so if you’re a devotee of the hobby then you’ll be in ideal company.
The lower dining floors of Tameiken restaurant below are famous for their great omurice. They also serve other hearty and proudly unpretentious Japanese interpretations of Western food.
Where: 1-8-6 Nihonbashi Muromachi
When: 11am–5pm | Mon–Sat
How much: ¥200
If you like to see unexpected displays in museums, you might also like seeing art in unexpected places. Check out some of our other articles about art, galleries and museums:
- Museum Without Walls: Public Art in Tokyo
- The Best Tokyo Hotels for Art Lovers
- Tokyo Luxury Brand Boutiques: Free Art Galleries to Check Out
Featured photo by Laika ac from USA , CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31724416