Tokyo’s museums are defined by eclecticism. More than 100 institutions scatter the city, and while the Tokyo National Museum will be the starting point for many, it shouldn’t be the finale. From the stern Le Corbusier-designed National Museum of Western Art to the park-set villa of the Ghibli Museum, even their settings offer something to ponder. It’s certainly no surprise that a buoyant contemporary arts scene has found its feet in the city’s surfeit of glassy spaces.
There is no one district for museums in Tokyo, though the big nationals tend to cluster around Ueno Park. The Roppongi Hills ‘Art Triangle’, consisting of the National Art Center, Suntory Museum of Art and Mori Art Museum (recognisable for Louise Bourgeois’ giant Maman spider sculpture outside) offers a counterbalance. The rest are scattered across suburbs, parks, skyscrapers and malls, running the cultural gamut from anime to ramen but united by one thing: a shared distaste for opening on Mondays.
More common ground lies in the need to book in advance. Last-minute spaces at the likes of the Ghibli or Yayoi Kusama museums are rare, and unthinkable at weekends (both strictly limit visitor numbers). If you’re here a while, it’s worth getting a Grutto Pass, which offers free admission or discounts at a host of places; also bear in mind that many museums open late on Fridays.
Spare a thought too for what’s currently missing. The irrepressible digital art collective teamLab shuttered its Borderless museum in Odaiba in 2022, instantly reducing Japanese Instagrammers to fits of frustration. Its Planets exhibition at a temporary venue in Toyosu runs until the end of this year; however, by then, teamLab’s highly anticipated permanent space in the Azabudai Hills will be open.
Another big name currently excused from itineraries is the stately Edo Museum in Ryogokyu, which is likely to be closed until 2025 for a major renovation and refit. It’s a big miss, but as you can see, there’s plenty to fill the gap.