Japan has some of the best - and most unusual - museums in the world. Get ready for your exclusive tour!
From museums dedicated to Japan’s fascinating history to those celebrating the country’s quirkier side, Japan has some of the best - and most unusual museums - in the world. Find out which museums made our top ten, where to find them across the beautiful country of Japan, and how to reach each of them with the Japan Rail Pass for almost unlimited travel across the country’s world-leading domestic rail network. Ready for a cultural tour of Japan’s finest museums? Let’s go.
Top 10 Museums in Japan
From classical to contemporary to downright unusual, Japan’s outstanding museums are a reflection of the diversity of this incredible country. We’ve selected our top ten with a couple of related bonus recommendations at the very end.
1. Edo Tokyo Museum
Visit the Edo Tokyo Museum in Tokyo to learn what life was like living in this incredible city through past centuries. From the Japan medieval era, when Tokyo was called Edo (up to 1869), to recent decades. The museum vividly retells and illustrates the lives of people from different walks of life, from the Samurai in Edo to the post-war salaryman. The museum exhibition starts with the founding of Edo by the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, in 1603. By the early 18th century, Edo had become one of the largest population centres in the world, similar to cities like Paris and London, with over a million inhabitants. At the same time, culture flourished and many of the arts, events, and cultural products Japan is world-famous for today have their origins in Edo-Tokyo. Think of kabuki theatre, ukiyo-e woodblock printing and festivals like the Sanja Matsuri found their origin or at least shape as we know them today in early Edo. In the 19th century, Edo was booming, with a quickly growing population and as well culturally, it was only a matter of time before the rest of the world took notice. It is in this time that Edo first saw international contacts and influence. That contact ultimately led to the Meiji Restoration in 1868, many cities and regions were renamed, and it is here that Edo became known as Tokyo. It is here that Tokyo began its path to the modern metropolis we know today. Incredibly, the Edo-Tokyo Museum features more than 800.000 pieces of art and history on display, grouped in 22 stages.
The Edo-Tokyo Museum can be reached on foot from JR Ryogoku station within 3-5 minutes, which is located on the JR Sobu line which runs through central Tokyo towards Chiba and stops at important stations like Shinjuku (JR) and Akihabara and is covered by the Japan Rail Pass. From Tokyo station take the JR Yamanote line to Akihabara station, and then transfer to the JR Sobu line. Directions to the museum are well posted within the station.
2. Cup Noodle Museum
For something completely different, try the Cup Noodle Museum in Osaka. Located in the Ikeda ward of Osaka, the Cup Noodle museum is dedicated to everything “Cup Noodles” (commonly known as ‘Pot Noodles’ in the UK) and its founder Momofuku Ando. The museum is a fun and educational visit, exploring the creation and evolution of instant noodles, from the founding of instant chicken ramen to the latest tech for space noodles! Within the museum is an educational set explaining the history and creation of Cup Noodles, how the industry grew and the technology behind it. There are interactive workshops in the Chicken Ramen Factory and My CUPNOODLES Factory, where visitors can learn to create their own noodles and design their own cup. Additionally, there’s a Cup Noodle Drama Theatre where you can sit at your leisure and watch cup noodles being made, an Exhibition of Instant Noodles showing the popularity and consumption on a worldwide level, the Instant Noodles Tunnel built with over 800 different product packages that have been used within the last half century, plus the Tasting Room where it is possible to sample the latest and most exclusive Cup Noodles, and finally the Museum Shop is a great place to pick-up some Cup Noodles souvenirs and memorabilia. The most convenient way for getting there is to use the Hankyu Takarazuka line from Osaka station to Ikeda station, from there the museum is less than 5 minutes on foot. A one-way trip costs ¥270, unfortunately the Hankyu line is not included in the JRailPass. The alternative when using the JR Pass is to take the JR Tokaido line, from Osaka station to Kawanishi-Ikeda. Then walk from there to the museum, which is about 30min away. Our full guide to the Cup Noodle Museum has everything you need to know.
3. Kyoto Railway Museum
Japan has one of the world’s safest, fastest, cleanest, and most efficient domestic rail networks. That’s just one of the reasons we recommend using the JR Pass for unlimited travel on Japan’s trains as the best way to explore the country. Japan is also a country of train lovers so it’s no surprise that they have several museums dedicated to railways. One of these is the Kyoto Railway Museum. Newly opened in 2016, the Kyoto Railway Museum replaces the former Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum. Here you can find both the oldest and newest in railway technology. Whether you are a rail-fan or looking for a cool family trip, the The Kyoto Railway Museum will be worth your time.
The museum has over 30,000 square feet with 53 trains to marvel at, 3 floors with permanent and changing exhibits, 3 Shinkansen bullet trains and many other iconic trains. You can also drive a train in a simulator course and learn about the inner workings of railway travel, think of pantographs, signalling and railway crossings. From the roof terrace, visitors can view bullet and local trains approaching Kyoto station on the Tokaido line. It’s a great place for train spotters! Please note that the roof terrace may be closed in case of bad weather conditions. The Kyoto Railway Museum is about 15-20 min on foot from Kyoto station and 12-15min on foot from Tambaguchi station. Our guide to the Kyoto Railway Museum can tell you even more. For an alternative transport related museum to consider, you could also visit the Mazda Museum in Hiroshima.
4. Sapporo Beer Museum
Kanpai! Japan’s love of beer is celebrated at Sapporo Beer Museum. With a history dating back to 1876, Sapporo beer is the oldest brewery and beer brand in Japan. Dating back to the Meiji era when Japan was rapidly industrialising by taking examples from the West and inviting highly qualified individuals from around the world to help build the future of Japan. So too with Sapporo Beer, that became a marriage between local craft, inspired by German brewing tradition and American industrialism. The museum is the original brewery building that was in service between 1876 and 1965. A visit takes you through the beer brewing process, the history of Sapporo beer and what makes the beer taste special. Admission to the museum is free, and there’s a beer tasting option after completing the museum course. Tours in Japanese and English are also available. Attached to the museum is a large traditional beer hall that serves local Hokkaido dishes. The beer hall is famous for its all you can eat and drink menu options. Including the local meat heavy dish called Jingisukan (called after the Genghis Khan). The museum is closely located to the JR Naebo station, and can be reached on foot in about 5 minutes. JR Naebo station is just one stop away from Sapporo station and is included in the Japan Rail Pass. Raise a glass and check out our full guide to visiting the Sapporo Beer Museum now.
5. Tanegashima Space and Technology Museum
Did you know that Japan recently made history by landing an unmanned spacecraft on the moon? And did you know that this history-making vehicle launched from a space centre that you can actually visit?
Visit the Space Science and Technology Museum at the Tanegashima Space Center to learn about Japan’s history with space exploration and modern day accomplishments. The Tanegashima Space Center - a real-life rocket launch complex and the largest space centre in Japan - has long been a major part of Japan’s space program, which makes the chance to see it up close in person quite a special thing. While getting the chance to watch a launch from the Tanegashima Space Center is sure to be quite the spectacle, those who visit outside of a launch window, can instead pay a visit to the Tanegashima Space Center museum. Set across several floors, the Space Science and Technology Museum takes visitors through the development and successes of Japan’s distinguished space program. The museum’s exhibits here display equipment like launch vehicles, rockets and satellites, as well as full scale models, such as a recreation of the Kibo Japanese Experiment Module on the ISS. But the museum is also quite the interactive experience as well, with games and fun exhibits designed to help you engage with subjects like rocket science, astronomy and other aspects of space exploration. Interactive activities designed to test your knowledge here are particularly popular with kids and adults alike. Besides the museum, visitors to the space centre can also visit the Rocket Launch Theater. There on a large screen with full audio you can experience a rocket lifting off from the complex’s launchpad.
If you’re a fan of science and innovation, we have a bonus suggestion alongside Tanegashima and that’s Miraikan - Japan’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Technology in the Odaiba District of Tokyo. This stunning museum - with a globe in its atrium (as pictured at the top) is a must-see for any lovers of cutting-edge science - of which Japan is at the forefront. This is an excellent museum to visit while in Tokyo.
6. Miho Museum
If you love art and antiquities then the Miho Museum in Shiga is for you. At the Miho Museum you can witness ancient art and antiquities from Japan and the West inside a world class architectural landmark. This stunning museum near the city of Kōka in Shiga Prefecture is home to thousands of ancient artworks and antiquities, set inside a brilliant building designed by internationally renowned architect I.M. Pei. As such, a visit to the Miho Museum is more than just about its collections but also the experience created by its world-class architecture. It opened in 1997 but was the result of four decades of work by founder Mihoko Koyama who spent more than 40 years accumulating its impressive collection of artwork. Koyama sought to promote joy, peace and beauty through art and assembled her collection of Japanese art, paintings/calligraphy, ceramics and lacquerware with that in mind. Today the museum boasts a collection of roughly 3,000 pieces of art and antiques with a strong focus on ancient civilizations, but especially Shinto and Buddhist art. A large portion of these pieces were personally collected by Koyama herself, while many were acquired through collaboration with art dealer Noriyoshi Horiuchi. Some exhibit pieces gathered have little to no provenance, leading to discussions about pieces belonging to previously lost treasures.
For many, what makes the Miho Museum such a special place to visit is its incredible architectural design. The museum was designed by internationally recognised Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei, who designed other famous structures including the Louvre Museum in Paris. Pei came up with a design for the museum that would integrate the natural surroundings of the museum into its build. He took inspiration from The Peach Blossom Spring, an ancient Chinese fable written by Tao Yuanming, and sought to create an idyllic utopia that he referred to as Shangri-La. The space switches between man-made and natural environments to create a sense of warmth and harmony, even though much of the museum is actually underground. Like the Louvre Pyramid, the use of natural light is fundamental to the architecture’s impact. Travellers will find that the Miho Museum is a relatively easy place to visit when travelling around Japan with their JR Pass. To get to the museum, travel from Kyoto Station to Ishiyama Station on the JR Tokaido Line. From there, you will need to buy a ticket for the Teisan bus number 150 that brings you to the museum. For everything else you need to know read our full blog post on the Miho Museum.
Lovers of classical art and modern art will have plenty to discover in Japan - a country with a high number of art galleries and museums. As well as the Miho Museum above, be sure to check out The National Museum of Modern Art (MOMAT) in Tokyo, if you’re an art lover and Tokyo is your destination.
7. Snoopy Museum
Ready for a change of pace (and a different kind of museum)? Come see Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts Gang at the incredibly special Snoopy Museum in Tokyo. Japan’s love of animation and cartoons through anime and manga is well-known. But the country also adores international characters and creations as well, like the lovable beagle Snoopy from the Peanuts comic strip by Charles M. Schulz. After all, Peanuts is one of the most recognizable comic creations in the world, running for 50 years in over 2,600 newspapers and 21 languages. But it’s the character of Snoopy in particular that found his way into the hearts of the Japanese public. So, if you’re also a fan of this long-running series or cute cartoons in general, you won’t want to miss this Tokyo museum. Located in Tokyo’s Grandberry Park in Machida, the museum originally opened in a different location in 2016 but moved to bigger premises in 2019 due to its popularity with the public.
The best place to start when visiting the Snoopy Museum is with the corner dedicated to creator Charles M. Schulz. There you can learn about the creator and the history of the Peanuts comic strip, getting to know the Peanuts Gang if you’re not already familiar. The exhibit is full of images and photographs that highlight the relationship between the characters and real life experiences of Schulz himself. There you’ll also find films that explore the illustrating technique Schulz used to create these iconic characters. This is the beginning of the “Snoopy and The Peanuts Gang” permanent exhibition. From there you can head into the “Opening Theater” and see Snoopy animated across multiple screens in new and different ways. Further into the museum you reach the “Peanuts Gang Gallery”, which features information and trivia on the comic run, as well as reproductions, slideshows and other vintage items. Then there are the “Snoopy Room” and “Woodstock Room”, dedicated to Snoopy and his yellow bird sidekick Woodstock. Each has countless images of their character around the place, including a massive eight-metre Snoopy sleeping on Linus’ blanket. Finally, there’s the museum’s special temporary exhibits like the current “Here Come the Beagle Scouts!”, with valuable original drawings on loan from the Schulz Museum in California. Our full length guide to The Snoopy Museum, Tokyo, has even more information to help you plan your visit.
8. Japan’s National Museums
Japan has four national museums in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, and Kyushu. All four hold some of Japan’s (and the world’s) finest art and artefacts and they are 100% worth a place on this list as well as worth visiting while in Japan. For today’s article, we’ll look at the Kyoto National Museum. One of Japan’s national museums and one of the oldest - it was founded in 1897 - Kyoto National Museum was previously known as the Imperial Museum of Kyoto. Although the Kyoto National Museum has a broad focus on pre-modern Japanese and Asian art, its exhibits cover a wonderful range of mediums, eras and themes. This means there's something for everyone here, especially with a revolving door of special exhibitions. All told, the museum is home to over 12,000 works, with around half of that on display. Generally speaking, the permanent exhibits fall into three main themes: fine arts, handicraft and archaeology. The largest section is fine arts with paintings to calligraphy and sculptures. Its painting exhibitions are separated into individual sections on Chinese, Medieval, Edo Period and religious paintings, with some fascinating pieces on samurai culture, Buddhism and the Kami (or deities) of Shinto. With its calligraphy collection, the museum delves into the history and meaning of this art form, to give visitors a deeper appreciation of the form beyond its beauty. Read our guide to the Kyoto National Museum for more.
9. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum
When tragedies happen, it’s important we learn from them to avoid making the same mistakes again. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum exists for this purpose. Hiroshima’s fame is tied to the incredibly tragic day that the city was devastated by an atomic bomb deployed by the US in World War II. This moment in history forever changed the city and course of history, so there is really no reason why you would miss Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum, a landmark dedicated to the effect of this moment.
Those looking to learn more about the Hiroshima bombing and its long-lasting impacts, should make their way to the park’s Peace Memorial Museum. Spanning the two main buildings of the park, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum takes guests through the history and human suffering of this infamous historical event. Exhibits cover the factors leading up to the war, Hiroshima’s role during the war and plenty of personal details relating to the awful effects of the bombing. Some displays include incredibly unfiltered and blunt photographs related to the aftermath of the bombing, which some visitors may find upsetting. But these exhibits are not done for the sake of shock value but as a reminder and deterrent to the horror caused by the use of nuclear weapons. For more, read our guide to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum.
10. Ghibli Museum
Japan’s world-famous and award-winning animation studio, Studio Ghibli, has created some of the world’s best loved animated films, from My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away to Ponyo and Howl’s Moving Castle. They have recently unveiled a theme park that’s not a theme park in Japan, but prior to that, they opened a museum and it remains a must-visit for Studio Ghibli fans and one of the country’s best museum experiences.
Located in Mitaka, Japan, the museum opened in 2001 and quickly became an integral part of any anime tour through Japan. Characteristics of the building’s design — such as the maze of spiral staircases, bridged passages, and overhanging terraces — often reflect storyboards of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. Widely considered “Japan’s Walt Disney” by westerners, Miyazaki is Ghibli Museum’s director and designer as well. The museum’s storybook-like world exhibits an uplifting experience that will leave all who enter with an enriched feeling that may not have been there when they first entered. The unique exterior of the museum is a sneak peek into what the interior holds. When visitors first walk in they are greeted with a fresco painted ceiling depicting a blue sky and a smiling sun in the centre, surrounded by trees, grapes, melons, flower blossoms and — if they look close — the visitors can see well known-anime characters flying through the sky. This is where the tickets, made of pieces of a 35 mm film that were used in theatres, are given to the visitors in exchange for reservation coupons. The ceiling of wonder is just the beginning; the rest of the museum is made up of permanent exhibits that maintain the storybook world throughout. For more, read our comprehensive guide to Studio Ghibli Museum Tickets, Tour, and Travel Information.
If you’re a fan of Japanese art, history, and culture, both classical and contemporary, then you’ll likely be interested in these recommendations.
- For another way to experience Japan’s culture and history, you can visit the Imperial Palace or one of the country’s spectacular castles. Our guides, What Is It Like To Visit The Imperial Palace and The Best Castles In Japan are a great place to start.
- As far as contemporary culture goes, Japan is famous for manga and anime and this is likely to be the subject of future museums and history books. In the meantime, why not read up on The Best Japanese Manga and Anime to Enjoy from Home.
- Meanwhile, for more indoor activities like museums, check out our list of the Best Indoor Activities in Japan, including kabuki, aquariums, computer game arcades, and more.