Tsuyu, the rainy season, is here. Unlike a lot of people, I really enjoy June. I love being able to wear my rain boots. I love the glossy neon lights reflected in puddles all over the streets. And of course, I love that it brings the hydrangeas and turns the whole city into a kaleidoscope of colours.
The rainy season also gives us a chance to slow down and spend time indoors. Luckily for anyone in Tokyo, there are loads of cool and fascinating museums to check out. From museums about technology to art to food, there really is something for everyone.
These are seven of my favourite museums to visit on a rainy day (or any day!) in Tokyo.
1. Edo-Tokyo Museum, Ryogoku
Come here for: history and culture
The first museum I ever visited in Tokyo, the Edo-Tokyo Museum has a special place in my heart. I always recommend it to friends visiting and think it is an absolute must for anyone with even a slight interest in the history of Tokyo and Japanese culture. The museum has amazing miniature models of Edo city (old Tokyo), life size models of a kabuki theatre and houses pre and post war, old Japanese cars, and lots more. I highly recommend walking through the museum with one of the volunteer guides (who speak many languages) as they are all super enthusiastic, knowledgeable and will answer any questions you have.
Side note: if the weather is actually nice, I highly recommend the sister museum, the Edo-Tokyo Open-Air Architecture Museum located in Koganei Park, where you can see lots of buildings from the Edo Period that have been relocated there for preservation and arranged into a village.
2. National Museum of Nature and Science, Ueno
Come here for: the animal kingdom
Marked at the entrance by a life size blue whale, the Museum of Nature and Science is one of the most impressive museums I’ve ever visited. It is so large and detailed that it requires at least half a day to see everything, or if possible a few visits.
There are three separate buildings: one is about Japan (the Japan Gallery), one is about the world (the Global Gallery), and another is for temporary/special exhibitions. So far, I’ve visited part of the Global Gallery and seen a special exhibition about the human body (on currently).
The Global Gallery covers six floors. Starting from the bottom, you can learn about the universe – things like gravity and galaxies. The next two floors are on dinosaurs, fossils and evolution. Then, you can learn about different climates around the world, ecosystems and biodiversity… walking through the tropical rainforest section, I felt like I was back in my hometown! I was also particularly captivated by the butterfly collection!
The next floor is an exhibition explaining past inventions and technology with a connection to nature and science. Finally, stepping onto the top floor, I felt like I was boarding Noah’s ark. The preserved animals are arranged into sections like the strongest species or animals facing extinction. It was interesting to compare the sizes and features of different animals which you would usually never see side by side.
3. Miraikan, Odaiba
Come here for: science and technology
Miraikan, which translates to ‘building of the future’, is officially called the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. It’s located on the reclaimed land, Odaiba, known for its plethora of fun activities for young people like a trick art museum and game centres.
This fun and interactive museum brings the future of Japan into the palm of your hands. I thought it was great that everything was in Japanese as well as English, and they really have a focus on getting visitors involved by doing things like answer survey questions on a tablet-like screen and seeing the results projected onto the ceiling, or trying your hand at robot-assisted surgery. You can also see a performance by the famous humanoid robot, Asimo, which is said to be the most advanced robot in the world and is dearly loved by the Japanese.
4. Ramen Museum, Shin-Yokohama
Come here for: food
Technically across the border in Kanagawa, I love this place too much to leave it off the list. The Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum is an underground time capsule featuring selected regional ramen from around Japan. The interior is modelled off downtown Tokyo during the post war days (Japan’s Showa Period).
At the entrance is a small exhibition that explains what ramen is and how it’s made. You can then wander the atmospheric alleys full of restaurants and shops. On the bottom floor, you can try some old school games and depending on the schedule, catch one of the entertaining performances.
The noodles are served in full size or half size, the latter is a great option if you plan to try a few different bowls of tonkotsu, shio, shoyu or miso ramen. The lines for each restaurant can get long at busy times, so I’d suggest doing a walk around and choosing just two or three places out of the nine that strike your fancy.
5. National Art Center, Roppongi
Come here for: art and architecture
I’ve been lucky to catch some amazing exhibitions at the National Art Center over the past few years. One that sticks in my mind was a travelling Impressionist exhibition from Musée d’Orsay in Paris where I got to see The Fifer by Manet and Gare Saint-Lazare by Monet.
There are no permanent displays here, but the great thing about the National Art Center is even if there aren’t any exhibitions on, it’s worth going just to see the building itself. The foyer has been described as one of the best examples of modern architecture in the world. Designed by famous Japanese architect, Kisho Kurokawa, it’s a breathtaking, curved glass atrium 21m high made to naturally cut out sunlight and make it energy-efficient. In the middle is an inverted cone on which sits a Paul Bocuse cafe.
6. Ghibli Museum, Mitaka
Come here for: film and art
For the young, young at heart and anyone who appreciates the amazing work of Hayao Miyazaki, the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo’s western district is a must visit.
The first Ghibli animation I ever watched was Grave of the Fireflies. It’s a devastating film based on the atomic bombings and I remember bawling my eyes, but the storytelling captivated me. In my later teenage years I watched Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away, and since, I think I’ve watched most of the movies. Some favourites are Princess Mononoke and Laputa Castle in the Sky which I also adore the soundtrack to.
The Ghibli Museum is a beautiful tribute to a legendary film studio. Set in a tree-filled park with part of the building underground, it feels like a cosy warren. You can watch an original short film in the theatre, see sketches from the movies, see rooms set up like an illustrator’s studio, eat in a terrace cafe and of course buy Ghibli merch.
Note: photos aren’t allowed inside the museum. Tickets sell out early and must be reserved online.
7. Intermediatheque, Tokyo
Come here for: natural science
Laid out like the displays you see in university science labs, Intermediatheque is a free museum located in KITTE, the former post office turned department store (fun fact: kitte means stamp in Japanese). Photos aren’t allowed in the majority of the museum, but I can assure you it’s an impressive space and you will leave wanting to go back to university and major in natural science!
On display in the two floors of this museum are skeletons of frogs, birds, dolphins and fish. You can also see a preserved Japanese spider crab, the largest in the world. There’s a 19th century mineral collection, amazing black coral from the deep sea, dissected beetles, African instruments and taxidermy animals. There’s even a preserved mummy that they believe is around 2,500 years old. All of the exhibits came from the Tokyo Imperial University (current University of Tokyo) which had been collecting items since 1877.
Have you been to any of these museums? What have been some impressive museums you have visited in the world?