Ghibli Museum | Photo by cowardlion via Shutterstock

Tokyo Museums Worth the Hype

1. Ghibli Museum

Located near Kichijoji Station, the Ghibli Museum is the animation studio’s first physical space dedicated to its films, many of which were directed by Hayao Miyazaki. More akin to a theme park than a museum, fans of Ghibli can spend time in a whimsical area with hints to popular titles wherever your eyes wander. Every now and again, the museum will host special exhibitions surrounding one particular film or work.

Note: It is recommended to book your tickets as far in advance as possible.

2. Mori Art Museum

Perhaps one of the city’s best private institutions, the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills hosts numerous exhibitions throughout the year that feature artists from Japan and abroad. The museum is known for its meticulous curation and bold yet accessible themes that can be enjoyed by amateur and hard-core art lovers alike.

In addition to the main gallery space, the Mori Art Museum has smaller sister galleries that host additional exhibitions, notably the Mori Art Gallery, which focuses more on technology and popular culture.

3. Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT)

Located in Tokyo’s Kasai neighborhood, the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo is a beloved art museum that also serves as a venue for a series of fairs. Enjoy its permanent exhibitions, which display items pulled from the museum’s collection of Japanese and international contemporary art and special exhibitions.

Lovers of art and design theory will appreciate the MOT’s Art Library, which houses materials and exhibition catalogs available for browsing. There is also a children’s corner for young ones.

4. National Art Center, Tokyo

Boasting one of Japan’s largest exhibition spaces, which spans 14,000 square meters, The National Art Center, Tokyo is a must-visit if you love all things art. It also displays how creative works can encourage mutual understanding and inclusion. In addition to curated exhibitions, there are various programs ranging from talks and seminars to workshops led by the artists themselves.

5. National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (MOMAT)

The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo was the first national museum to be built in central Tokyo. One of its allures is its vast collection of Important Cultural Properties and Japanese art from the 19th century onward. MOMAT usually hosts two exhibitions at a time, one featuring a curated selection of items from its collection and another that surrounds a chosen theme.

6. Spiral Gallery

Spiral is a gallery, event space and general hub for all things crafts and visual arts located in Omotesando. The majority of its exhibitions feature independent artists from diverse backgrounds and those who work with various mediums, from photography to doll-making.

Spiral also has a shop that sells items with noteworthy designs on the gallery’s second floor and online.

7. Sumida Hokusai Museum

Katsushika Hokusai’s “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” figures among the most recognizable works of Japanese art. The Sumida Hokusai Museum is dedicated to the work of Hokusai, from his early prints and grotesque yokai to his world-famous views of Mount Fuji. The museum’s contemporary facade is a great contrast to the works inside and is even more impressive in person.

8. Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum

A short walk from JR Meguro Station, the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum is a must-visit for lovers of architecture and Japanese art. The exhibition halls are split between two buildings, the Former Residence of Prince Asaka and the annex. Select rooms inside the Former Residence were preserved and styled as they were when the prince still lived there, so every visitor gets a glimpse of the past as they go through the current exhibition.

The museum also has a garden with Japanese and European-style landscaping, as well as a restaurant.

9. Tokyo National Museum (TNM)

The Tokyo National Museum is the oldest facility of its kind in Japan. Whether you’re fascinated by Japanese swords, nihonga, or lacquerware, you’re sure to find many artifacts from Japan and the rest of Asia at TNM. The museum has a permanent exhibition as well as special exhibitions around selected themes across its multiple buildings.

10. Yayoi Kusama Museum

The Yayoi Kusama Museum is dedicated to the internationally renowned Japanese artist with whom it shares its name. The museum has three floors that house various artworks and installations. Every quarter, it updates its exhibition spaces to follow a theme inspired by Kusama’s latest musings.

Tokyo Museums You Might Not Know

11. Artizon Museum

Formerly known as The Bridgestone Museum of Art, Artizon Museum reopened under its current name, which combines the words “art” and “horizon,” in 2020. The various exhibitions showcase a wide range of works, from antiques and classic Japanese art to 20th-century paintings and contemporary installations.

12. Diesel Art Gallery

Diesel Art Gallery serves as an exhibition space for avant-garde artists from Japan and abroad. The gallery prides itself on hosting art that you will rarely (if ever) see at other institutions and art spaces. Exhibiting digital artist Mad Dog Jones was on the cover of Tokyo Weekender’s September 2019 issue.

13. Espace Louis Vuitton Tokyo

Located in Omotesando on the top floor of the Louis Vuitton building, this exhibition space welcomes installations and works by leading contemporary artists.

14. Gyre Gallery

This Omotesando art spot is known for its multidisciplinary and cross-medium exhibitions and artists. Gyre Gallery is beloved for its avant-garde showcases of contemporary art, fashion, media and technology. It’s free to enter, plus you get to wander the Gyre building, which is in itself a multilevel complex of design inspiration.

15. Ginza Maison Hermès Le Forum

A collaborative space on the eighth and ninth floors of the Ginza Maison Hermès store, Le Forum exhibits the work of local and international contemporary artists under select themes, with a preference for the visually striking.

16. Kaikai Kiki Gallery

Founded and run by controversial but beloved Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, Kaikai Kiki Gallery hosts a plethora of small exhibitions by contemporary local and international artists, some for the first time in Japan.

17. Mitsubishi Ichigokan

Mitsubishi Ichigokan is located in Marunouchi and is presented as a symbol of the modernization of Japan, which is shown via the building’s stunning facade, designed in 1894 by Josiah Conder. The museum exhibits a variety of traditional and modern items from a wide range of mediums, including ukiyo-e and photography.

18. Nezu Museum

The Nezu Museum is perhaps most famous for its garden, specifically its violet bed that blooms for only a week or so every June. However, year-round, visitors can enjoy various selections from the private collection of Nezu Kaichiro, which features pre-modern Japanese items as well as East Asian art.

19. Suntory Museum of Art

Opened in 1961, the Suntory Museum of Art is part of the Tokyo Midtown complex in the Minato Ward. It hosts six special exhibitions per year, each showcasing a selection of artworks and artifacts from the museum’s private collections. Keep an eye out for sought-after Important Cultural Properties and Important Art Objects on display.

20. Yamatane Museum of Art

Those interested in Japanese art, especially nihonga, should pay the Yamatane Museum of Art a visit. Operating since 1966, the private museum is dedicated to deepening our understanding and appreciation of Japanese paintings, from ancient to modern times. The museum also has a shop and café. You can enjoy seasonal wagashi in the latter.

National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan)

Specialized Tokyo Museums for All

21. 21_21 Design Sight

Part of the Tokyo Midtown complex, 21_21 Design Sight is a specialized gallery that focuses on, as you might have already guessed, design. It also showcases projects and cases in which design, art, and technology intersect. The gallery usually has on show one to two exhibitions at once and has no ‘permanent collection.’

22. Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

The Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum is one of the few institutions dedicated to garments in Japan. It’s a specialized university-affiliated museum, working in tandem with Bunka Fashion College to showcase Japan’s fashion landscape through a holistic lens, though it also showcases various clothing items from East and Southeast Asia received after World War II.

23. Ginza Graphic Gallery

As its name suggests, Ginza Graphic Gallery (or GGG for short) is a specialized exhibition space dedicated to graphic design. In addition to exhibitions, which are free to enter, GGG holds lectures and sells graphic design-related books meant to inspire and educate.

24. National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan)

Even those with a casual interest in science and technology should consider visiting The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. Permanent exhibitions include everything from a life-size reconstruction of a portion of the International Space Station to a simplified model that explains how the internet works. Most installations and areas are interactive and have support systems in various languages.

Special exhibitions surrounding specific technology-related themes are also hosted here. Best check before visiting to see if they suit your interests and are worth the extra pair of tickets.

25. Ota Memorial Museum

Ukiyo-e is perhaps the most famous Japanese art abroad. The Ota Memorial Museum is a facility that displays pieces from a private collection of over 12,000 works based on a monthly rotation, inspired by various themes including beautiful women and cats.

26. Teamlab Borderless and Teamlab Planets

International collective Teamlab is known for its twist on traditional museums and galleries by heavily incorporating technology and music. Tokyo locations include Borderless, set to reopen in 2023 in Azabudai Hills, and Planets in Toyosu. Teamlab experiences are immersive and encourage visitors to navigate the so-called “digital museum” using all five senses.

27. Terrada Art Complex

The Terrada Art Complex is a cluster of highly specialized and curated galleries in Shinagawa. Japanese and international contemporary artists exhibit and sell their work here. Note that most galleries are free to visit but some require advance reservations.

28. Tokyo National Museum of Nature and Science

The Tokyo National Museum of Nature and Science, which focuses on natural history and the history of science and technology, has a myriad of interactive, immersive and educational exhibits that range from the showcasing of dinosaur fossils to space tech.

The museum recently updated some of its most popular rooms, including the Animal of the Earth room, so if you haven’t visited in a few years, it might be worth checking out.

29. Tokyo Photographic Art Museum

Fans of photography should not skip a visit to the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum in Ebisu. Spread across three floors and one basement, the museum holds exhibitions surrounding one photographer or theme, as well as the occasional festival. It also has a library visitors can browse to learn more about photography as an art form.

Huls Gallery Tokyo

Independent Tokyo Galleries

30. Calm & Punk Gallery

Located in Nishiazabu, Calm & Punk Gallery exhibits a range of contemporary works by Japanese and international artists with a strong focus on multimedia and performance art. The gallery also publishes its own art book, Gasbook.

31. Huls Gallery Tokyo

Huls Gallery Tokyo is a gallery and shop that specializes in Japanese pottery, ceramic and porcelain ware from around the country. Every month you can see and learn more about the country’s diverse landscape of tableware types. If your Japanese is not great, fear not as the shop’s clerks can guide you through the exhibition and enhance your shopping experience in English.

Want more info? Read our interview with founder Yusuke Shibata.

32. Jinny Street Gallery

Jinny Street Gallery is a unique exhibition-slash-experience in Shibuya. Instead of your standard exhibition room or space, artworks are exhibited in specially repurposed telephone booths around Jingumae 2-chome. The gallery hopes to encourage ‘flaneuring’ by having the works showcased in Tokyo streets.

33. Perrotin Tokyo

Perrotin’s Tokyo gallery hosts contemporary art exhibitions not too far from Roppongi Hills. It’s a great place to see the latest names in the art scene. The gallery also has a small shop with merchandise and curated items from Perrotin and participating artists.

34. UltraSuperNew Gallery

Located in Harajuku, just north of Takeshita Street, UltraSuperNew Gallery is an art and event space that hosts small exhibitions by established and up-and-coming artists. It is run, in part, by the creative agency UltraSuperNew, which operates from the floor(s) above the gallery.

35. What Museum

The What Museum has only one purpose: to make the works of artists and collectors accessible to the public. Operated from inside a warehouse, the museum, along with its curators and exhibitioners, have the rare opportunity to explore what a gallery should look and feel like. Come for the contemporary art showcased side-by-side with the thoughts of collectors and connoisseurs in the industry.