Known for its iconic landmarks, like Meiji Jingu Shrine, Shibuya Crossing, and Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo is an eclectic city with plenty to offer locals and tourists. It’s one of the world’s largest metropolis and the most prominent Japanese city, with a history stretching back some 400 years. Originally named Edo, Tokyo has witnessed how it grew as the country’s most powerful and prominent city known to the world.
If you’re considering a trip to Japan, the best museums in Tokyo are must-see cultural attractions you shouldn’t miss. Whether you’re interested in samurai, trains, contemporary art, science and technology, or calligraphy, the capital of Japan has it all. It is home to hundreds of museums, art galleries, and ancient buildings that perfectly blend with modern sights, cutting-edge architecture, and pop culture. Just keep in mind that some of these places don’t allow large bags inside, so it’s better to leave your belongings at a secure luggage locker in Tokyo for safety and peace of mind.
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum should be part of your itinerary when visiting Ueno Park, an expansive public park close to central Tokyo’s Ueno Station. It aims to be a ‘doorway to art,’ offering visitors of all ages compelling art experiences where new artists can showcase their works. It offers four programs, including an Exhibition Program where people can enjoy special and thematic exhibitions for learning and fun.
This art museum first opened in May 1926 as Tokyo Prefectural Art Museum, designed by OKADA Shinichiro. In September 1975, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum moved to its current building that Mayekawa Kunio Associates designed. After 36 years, the building showed signs of deterioration, so it underwent a major renovation from March 2010 to February 2012. Today, it prides itself as the new center in Tokyo for cultural dissemination, featuring 12 permanently displayed sculptural works and 36 calligraphy works acquired between 1936 and 1978.
Location: 8-36 Ueno-Park Taito-ku, Tokyo 110-0007, Japan
Yayoi Kusama Museum
Opened in 2017, Yayoi Kusama Museum is one of the city’s newest cultural centers in the Shinjuku area. It was founded by Yayoi Kusama, a Japanese contemporary artist famous for her infinity installations and extensive use of polka dots. It aims to spread and promote Kusama’s art, showcasing her works and other related materials to contribute to art development.
Kusama’s major works are featured at Yayoi Kusama Museum, including her earlier pieces until the present day. In addition to the displays, there are also various activities, publications, lectures, and documentation to honor the artist’s great achievements.
Location: 107 Bentencho Shinjuku-ku Tokyo 162-0851 Japan
Tokyo National Museum
Established in 1872, the Tokyo National Museum has been in operation for 150 years. It is the oldest and largest art museum in Japan, featuring the world's most comprehensive collection of Japanese art. The museum mainly preserves archaeological objects and artwork from Asia, most of which are from Japan.
Inside the Tokyo National Museum are six distinct exhibition halls; each offers something unique in terms of decorative arts, oriental art, archaeology, calligraphy, paintings, and sculpture. It houses about 120,000 objects in its collection; 648 of these are Important Cultural and 89 Japanese National Treasures. It’s also has one of the best collection of archaeological artifacts and East Asian art.
Check out the Comprehensive Cultural Exhibition at the Tokyo National Museum, which changes its displays almost weekly. It means you’ll discover something new whenever you visit.
Location: 13-9 Uenokōen, Taito City, Tokyo 110-8712, Japan
Mori Art Museum
The city has a lot of great cultural sites, but one of the best museums in Tokyo you shouldn’t miss is the Mori Art Museum. Located in Minato City, this contemporary art museum features original works and curated contemporary art pieces by renowned local Japanese and international artists, mainly from Asia-Pacific. As of October 2021, Mori Art Museum holds over 460 works in a diverse range of media, such as photography, video, installation, sculpture, drawing, and painting.
Famous for its sky-high venue, Mori Art Contemporary art museum is located atop the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, specifically on the 52nd and 53rd floors. Aside from exhibitions, you can also enjoy the Museum Cafe and Restaurant, making it unique from any other museum.
Location: Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, Roppongi 6-10-1, Minato City, Tokyo 106-6150, Japan
Mori Building Digital Art Museum: teamLab Borderless
Not to be confused with Mori Art Museum, the Mori Building Digital Art Museum is a newly re-established digital art museum that initially opened in June 2018. It launched in the Odaiba district’s Palette Town shopping mall and entertainment facility, drawing in 2.3 million visitors in its first year. It will move to Toranomon-Azabudai Project in 2023 to continue delivering unique guest experiences.
Mori Building Digital Art Museum uses hundreds of projectors and computers to create experiences that will stimulate your senses. After all, it isn’t called ‘Borderless’ for nothing, creating digital art that’s constantly in motion. So be ready to be mesmerized by digital art as you explore the museum and its magical displays.
Location: Part of Toranomon 5-chome, Azabudai 1-chome, and Roppongi 3-chome, Minato-ku, Tokyo
The National Art Center Tokyo
Roppongi district is located at the center of Tokyo, with plenty of options for luxury shopping and dining. It is also home to some of the best city art museums, including the National Art Center Tokyo. It is one of Japan's most prominent art centers, with over 150,700 square feet of exhibition space and a floor area of 45,000 square meters, making it the country’s largest museum.
The architecture of the museum makes it more notable. The building is a concrete-and-glass structure designed by Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa. Here you can find 12 galleries with an annual collection of over 12,000 works, so it’s an ideal place for those who love Japanese art and architecture.
Unlike other art galleries and national art museums, the National Art Center Tokyo doesn’t have permanent exhibitions. Instead of hosting a major permanent collection, it remains flexible and adaptable, transforming the gallery to host rotating art exhibitions and public events.
The National Art Center Tokyo is open every day except on Tuesdays. It is part of the famous Roppongi Art Triangle, along with the Suntory Museum of Art and Mori Art Museum.
Location: 7-22-2 Roppongi, Minato City, Tokyo 106-8558, Japan
Every fan of Studio Ghibli's animation works would find paradise in one of the most famous museums in Tokyo, the Ghibli Museum. This museum was built and operated as a tribute to Studio Ghibli and the works of Director Hayao Miyazaki. It’s often filled with visitors and is one of the go-to destinations for tourists. Ticket sales sell out so quickly that the museum is usually booked for three months in advance.
On the first floor, you can witness exhibitions on animation techniques. There’s also a small theater that lets visitors enjoy short movies made by Studio Ghibli. The second floor is where you can find the unique temporary exhibitions. One of the most notable pieces you can find here is the 16-foot-tall life-sized robot soldier from the film called Castle in the Sky.
The museum is open to visitors every day, even on holidays. On weekdays, they are available from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. On weekends and holidays, they open from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM.
Location: 1-1-83 Shimorenjaku, Mitaka, Tokyo 181-0013, Japan
National Museum of Nature and Science
One of Japan’s most prominent science museums is the National Museum of Nature and Science at Ueno Park. It has been in function for more than 150 years and has been the perfect place for learners and even curious kids for many decades.
The National Museum of Nature and Science emphasizes Japan's technological contributions, biodiversity, geology, and anthropological history. Here, you can find over 25,000 exhibits where you can explore everything from outer space to dinosaurs to the latest advanced technology.
Location: 7-20 Uenokoen, Taito City, Tokyo 110-8718, Japan
National Museum of Western Art
Explore Western Art from the Medieval Period to the 20th century at the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. It is dedicated to European and some American art and is housed in a historically important building designed by French architect Le Corbusier. It was completed in March 1959, boasting over 5,500 works, including 370 from the Matsukata Collection, forming the core of the museum collection.
The National Museum of Western Art also features examples of sculpture and painting from the 14th century to the 20th century, before and after World War II. Besides discovering western art, it also has a museum shop offering around 200 items based on the museum collection items and previous exhibitions.
Location: 7-7 Uenokoen, Taito City, Tokyo 110-0007, Japan
The Nezu Museum was built to conserve pre-modern Japanese and East Asian art and exhibit the works of Nezu Koichiro, for whom the museum was named. It holds a collection of over 7,400 East Asian and Japanese artworks. Most of the displayed pieces you can find in the museum are from Nezu Kaichiro's private collection.
The Nezu Museum is known for its serene and peaceful ambiance, with bamboo walls, high ceilings, and large windows that overlook the leafy surroundings of the museum. A variety of art forms can be enjoyed throughout the museum, most of which focus on Buddhist art. You can see paintings, calligraphy, ceramics, and textiles.
Location: Minami-Aoyama 6-5-1, Minato City, Tokyo, 107-0062 Japan
Tokyo Photographic Art Museum
Japanese photography is diverse, innovative, and surreal, which is why it has been getting global attention for years and is often the topic of media research. Tokyo Photographic Art Museum is the perfect place to visit if you want to explore more of Japan's different visual art forms.
Here you can find a permanent collection of over 33,000 works from various domestic and international artists. The 4-story building is filled with not just photos but also moving images. Another great feature of this museum is its library, located on the fourth floor, with free admission.
Location: 1-13-3 Mita, Miguro City, Tokyo 153-0062, Japan
Edo-Tokyo Open Air Museum
If you want to discover Japanese culture and ancient architecture, Edo-Tokyo Open Air Museum is undoubtedly one of the must-visit museums in Tokyo. Located in the western part of the city, this open-air museum was established in 1993 by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The seven-hectare museum is the Edo Tokyo Museum Annex, which aims to reconstruct, preserve, and display historical buildings that have been lost since the Edo period due to fires, earthquakes, floors, and war.
A visit to the museum will allow visitors to get a glimpse of the past and discover Tokyo’s cultural heritage between the early Edo era and the mid-Showa period. Apart from the culturally valuable buildings, you’ll also see items revealing how people lived in a bygone era.
Location: 3 Chome-7-1 Sakuracho, Koganei, Tokyo 184-0005, Japan
What are the best free museums in Tokyo?
Great news for travelers on a budget! You don’t have to feel intimidated entering a museum in Tokyo because many of them are free. Head to Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, offering free admission to visitors of all ages. Some exhibitions here may cost a few bucks, but you can enter the museum and appreciate art without a fee.
Other museums, like the famous Tokyo National Museum, may not be free for all. But your visitors under 18 and those over 70 can enter without a cost.
Which are the best museums in Downtown Tokyo?
With hundreds of museums, art galleries, and exhibition spaces, it can be challenging to pick the best museums in Tokyo. But if you only want to explore the cultural sights in Downtown Tokyo, there are numerous art centers in the city center to see. These include the Art Triangle Roppongi, featuring three cutting-edge art museums: The National Art Center Tokyo, Mori Art Museum, and the Suntory Museum of Art. They are a stone’s throw from each other, so you can plan a day to explore each art center.
Are there any cheap museums in Tokyo?
Entrance to the top attractions in Tokyo can be expensive. Fortunately, some of the leading museums, like the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum and Edo-Tokyo Open Air Museum, offer free visits and discount deals. Junior high school students in Tokyo and younger children can enter the open-air museum for free, while adults only have to pay less than $3 each and even less when they are with a group.
Visit Top Tokyo Museums!
After you've shopped in the malls and stores and experienced free things to do in Tokyo, head to the museums! There’s no shortage of cultural experience in Tokyo. Whether you love arts and history or are into rich Japanese heritage and culture, the museums in the city offer unbeatable adventure to all travelers and museum-goers. Don’t worry if your budget doesn’t allow you to see popular exhibition spaces. There are cheap and free museums and hidden gems featuring everything from renaissance oil paintings and sculptures to contemporary digital art.