In Arts + Entertainment

The Most Remarkable Japanese Museums And Galleries

No matter how big or how niche the topic may be, the Japanese have a museum or gallery dedicated to preserving and showcasing that topic at its absolute best.

Japan is renowned for respecting the past and keeping tradition alive for future generations. One way in which they achieve this is via the humble museum. The Japanese were introduced to the Western concept of museums in the mid-1800s and never looked back.

No matter how big or how niche the topic may be, there’s now almost certainly a museum or gallery dedicated to preserving and showcasing that topic at its absolute best.

From fire engines and vintage trains to sumo wrestling, samurais and even ramen noodles, current estimates place Japanese museums at more than 6,000. It’s an impressive number, but a challenge when you only have a limited time to visit.

You could spend weeks discovering Japanese museums in Tokyo or Kyoto alone, but for the sake of efficiency, these four are a good place to start:

Mori Building Digital Art Museum: teamLab Borderless, Odaiba, Tokyo

Billed as the world’s first digital art museum, Mori Building Digital Art Museum: teamLab Borderless launched to much fanfare in July 2018 and has become one of the must-visit Japanese museums in the city. Located on the manmade island of Odaiba, known for its shopping malls and replica Statue of Liberty, the museum is unlike any other in the world.

The creation of teamLab, a digital art collective which includes engineers, programmers, architects and even mathematicians among its ranks, the 10,000sqm museum features immersive and interactive exhibits generated by 520 computers and 470 projectors. It’s incredible to see not only what technology can do but also what our minds can create.

Home to over 50 artworks, the museum is split into five distinct zones including the Borderless World, which features artworks rendered in real time that change in response to visitors, and the Forest of Lamps, an infinity room filled with motion-sensitive lamps.

Kyoto International Manga Museum, Nakagyō-ku, Kyoto

Though it may seem a left-field choice, a visit to the Kyoto International Manga Museum can offer surprisingly deep insight into Japanese society. More than just a comic book, manga is a diverse medium which often tackles complex themes such as love and loss, justice and morality, coming of age and the desire to be more than what you may think you are.

Housed within a former primary school and home to more than 50,000 books and manga-related exhibits, the museum attracts a diverse crowd from all ages and walks of life.

Grab a book from one of the towering wooden shelves that line the halls, find a chair, and start reading. Whether you understand Japanese or not, the pictures will reveal the story.

Yayoi Kusama Museum, Kagurazaka, Tokyo

japanese museums

The architecturally designed Yayoi Kusama Museum features bi-annual exhibitions of the artist’s works. Image: Kawasumi-Kobayashi Kenji Photograph Office

Think Japanese contemporary art, think Yayoi Kusama. An avant-garde artist and novelist, Kusama has developed an international following for her vibrant, detailed, and thought-provoking artworks, not to mention her love of pumpkins and polka dots.

Opened in Tokyo’s trendy Kagurazaka district in 2017, the architecturally designed Yayoi Kusama Museum features bi-annual exhibitions of the artist’s works. Obtaining tickets for the museum can be a challenge due to its popularity, but if you book well in advance you should be fine.

Yayoi Kusama Museum is open Thursdays to Sundays and on national holidays. All tickets must be purchased in advance via the museum’s website; door tickets are not available. Tickets go on sale 10am (Japan time) on the first day of each month for entry in the following month, and entry is timed and valid for a specific 90-minute time-slot only.

Adachi Museum of Art, Yasugi, Shimane Prefecture

Art and nature come together at the Adachi Museum of Art, a stunning gallery and garden complex that changes with the seasons. Founded in 1970 by businessman Adachi Zenko, the museum was a way of combining his two great passions: Japanese art and garden design.

Vivid red leaves in autumn, pure white snow in winter; the 165,000 sq m garden is exquisite all year-round. Complementing the dramatic landscape that envelopes it, the art museum contains around 1,500 paintings and ceramics by renowned Japanese artists including Takeuchi Seiho, Uemura Shoen, and Kawai Gyokudo, many of which date from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s.

The star of the museum is a collection of 120 pieces by pre-World War II painter Yokoyama Taikan, a man credited with helping to create the Nihonga painting technique. Displays are rotated with the seasons, so each visit has the potential to be a different experience.

Whether you have a keen interest or just want to expand your knowledge on a new subject, a visit to one of the many museums and galleries of Japan is a must-do for every traveller.

(Lead image: Universe Of Water Particles On A Rock Where People Gather / teamLab, Exhibition view of MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless, 2018, Odaiba, Tokyo, © teamLab)

Published 12 February, 2019