There have been many times in the past that I have visited museums when in new cities just because of a sense of obligation to do so due to what the guide books say. Japanese people tend to sleep in museums (if I can pigeon-hole a whole race into one heavy generalisation!) which is not something many other nationalities are comfortable with….or even allowed to do. I too often feel tired as soon as I enter museums and as much as I’d like to absorb all the information board material, very little ever seems to remain in my brain which is a shame but it’s also maybe a sign that these places are not for me. While I may not get too much out of visits to the art, science or history museums other than a feeling of tiredness and a slightly lighter wallet for, unlike most British museums, the ones in Japan are not free.
Having said that, there are still a fair few ‘alternative’ museums in and around Tokyo and here, in no particular order, is the Tokyo Fox top 10 recommendations. It should be noted that the Japanese use of the word ‘museum’ can be quite loose at times!!
1. Meguro Parasitological Museum, Meguro – Quite possibly the only museum in the world devoted to human and animal parasites. Not one for the fainthearted but supposedly a popular “date” destination for young couples. Maybe the guy shows his partner the 7.9m long tapeworm and then gets to comfort the shrieking girl!
2. National Football Museum, Ochanomizu – A hidden gem, this museum devotes most of its space to the 2002 World Cup Finals which it co-hosted alongside neighbours South Korea. The museum caters predominantly to the Japanese displaying the history of football in the country and features a reproduction of the national teams changing rooms in 2002 as well as other memorabilia, photos and shirts. The highlight is the ‘Mega Vision’ TV which is like being at the game as you have a panoramic view across the the giant screen enabling you to see the whole pitch from one camera angle. More details here.
3. Tobacco & Salt Museum, Shibuya – It may sound dull, particular to a non-smoker and small consumer of salt products, but this is one of those quirky little museums that is perhaps deserving of just being able to say you’ve been there! The collection of cigarette packets from around the world is actually quite interesting as are some of the traditional ukiyo-e picture cards. More details here.
4. Tokyo Olympic Museum, Shinjuku-ku – More commonly known as the Prince Chichibu Sports Memorial Museum this is located within the Chichibunomiya Rugby Stadium with exhibits including the winner’s podium from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, torches, athletic uniforms, tickets, mascots, scale models and posters providing an impressive overview of the history of the Olympic Games. It also covers other sports such as rugby and football with some of the World Club Championship memorabilia on view. More details here.
5. Ghibli Museum, Mitaka – Hugely popular place where tickets need to be bought in advance. The museum colourfully exhibits the process of making animations and there is an interesting 20 minute anime film to watch on your arrival. As well as the Miyazaki animated stuff, there are some exhibits relating to ‘Wallace and Gromit’ and ‘Morph’ of 1980’s Childrens BBC ‘Hartbeat’ fame! More details here.
6. Nihon Minkaen, Tama-ku – A rare opportunity to walk through and experience ancient Edo period style architecture first hand. These valuable historic creations have been relocated from all over Japan and feature a variety of buildings such as farmhouses, a water mill, a kabuki stage, a ferryman’s hut and an exhibition hall featuring your more common museum-type stuff displays. More details here.
7. NHK Musuem of Broadcasting, Shibuya – Public broadcaster NHK runs tours of the sets used for their TV programmes. The majority of it is in Japanese but there is the chance to be a newsreader with an English auto cue so you too can speak in a dull, uninterested voice whilst reading some fake headlines! More details here.
8. Omiya Bonsai Museum, Omiya – The perfect place for you to indulge yourself in the passion of Mr Miyagi of ‘Karate Kid‘ fame! This place has been open since 2010 and has displays of bonsai pots, suiseki (beautifully shaped) stones, pictures, historical bonsai materials and of course the bonsai trees themselves. This is just one of quite a few bonsai places in the area making up what is known as Omiya Bonsai Village. More details here.
9. Shin Yokohama Ramen Museum, Shin Yokohama – “There’s a ramen museum in Yokohama?! You’re kidding me!” are Abby’s (the late Brittany Murphy) words in ‘The Ramen Girl‘ (2008) when asked if she’s been there. There really is one and it’s got a Showa 33 (1958?) re-production inside the place which claims to be the first food amusement park to be created anywhere in the world. More details here.
10. Star Case, Koenji – Technically this isn’t a Star Wars museum but it goes pretty close to being one with (far more than this one!) with this fairly small shop being stuffed full of the thousands and thousands of LucasFilm merchandise goods that have been made over the years. And of course they can all be purchased! More details here.
* Honorary mentions go to Tokyo Subway Museum, Tokyo Fire Museum, Yebisu Beer Museum, JCII Camera Museum, Museum of Tin Toys, Kite Museum, Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Tsukuda Toy Museum, Tobu Museum of Transport & Culture, Tepco Electric Energy Museum, Sumo Museum.