UPON LANDING IN JAPAN, you’re struck by the pristine streets, the graciousness of the people, the omnipresent, drifting smells of food, and more often than not, the mystery of the culture. After you find yourself temple-and-shrine-d out, remember that there’s more to Japan than just sushi and Hello Kitty. You are sure to discover an alternative museum no matter where in the country you are.
14 Essential Alternative Museums to Check Out in Japan
Can’t get enough of the ramen? The Osaka area is home to a place where you can create your own and take it home. Did I pique your interest with the mere mention of Hello Kitty? You’ll want to pay the Anpanman and Ghibli museums a visit. At the latter, look out for the “cat bus”.
The best thing about all of the following museums is that everything from their design to their content captures a piece of Japanese culture. Each allows you to learn about Japan through a different, alternative lens and many will make you smile to yourself about how the Japanese can pretty much create any museum they want.
We pulled these locations out of our travelstoke app. It’s the world’s first social network for travelers, and it’s also a solid crowd-sourced travel guide. Don’t see something that should be on this list? Join the app and add it yourself!
Mori Art MuseumMinato-ku, JapanBest art museum in Tokyo and one of the best in all of Japan. Every 8 months of so, the museum has a huge exhibit from one artist. Past exhibits were from Makoto Aida, Takashi Murakami, and big name Western artists along with special Harry Potter stuff. Easier if you book tickets online because this is popular among locals, too. #museums #tokyo #art
Ghibli MuseumMitaka-shi, JapanIf you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli films, you must not leave Tokyo without coming to this museum. The experience is surreal and will totally surpass your expectations. Book with plenty of time.
Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum
Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur MuseumKatsuyama-shi, JapanLocated near the place in Japan where the most dinosaur bones have been found. Impressive dino skeletons all around the museum with a dino-themed playground with photo spots outside. #museums #dinosaurs
美濃和紙の里会館Mino-shi, JapanIn English, the Mino Washi Paper Museum. Beautiful examples of traditional Japanese paper and a workshop where you can make Japanese paper yourself! I opted for making postcards with my friend but there are several other choices. Very unique experience and no Japanese language ability necessary! #museums #art #japan #gifu #gallery
The Koka Ninja Museum
甲賀忍術博物館Kōka-shi, JapanIn English, Koka Ninja Museum. In Japanese, Koka Ninjutsu Hakubutsukan. Several celebrities, such as Harrison Ford, have visited here while filming movies in Japan. Cool ninja exhibits, trap doors, hidden compartments. Make sure you go to the back where you can practice throwing ninja stars (shuriken) at a target. #ninja #museums #japan #shiga
Ryōgoku KokugikanSumida-ku, JapanTokyo’s sumo arena. Sumo tournaments are held over a period of 16 days here in January, July, and September. Get tickets online or from a convenience store where the staff can help you. There is also a sumo museum connected to the arena. #sumo #sports #tokyo
The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, KanazawaKanazawa-shi, JapanBrilliant art museum – one of the best in Japan! Many pieces of artwork from world-famous artists along with the pool exhibit above that you can go “in”. Not to be missed! #mustsee #museums #art
The Momofuku Ando Ramen Museum
インスタントラーメン発明記念館Ikeda-shi, JapanIn English, the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum! See thousands of different types of ramen from around the world and even design and color your own package of instant ramen to take home with you. Awesome experience! #japan #osaka #museums
The Tobacco & Salt Museum
Tobacco & Salt MuseumSumida-ku, JapanFree attraction in the heart of Shibuya. Features old school tobacco/cigarette ad posters and wacky creations entirely made of salt. Great if you’re looking to escape the heat/cold/rainy reason in Tokyo. #museums #gallery #free #shibuya
The Yanase Takashi Anpanman Museum
やなせたかし記念館アンパンマンミュージアムKami-shi, JapanThe Yanase Takashi Anpanman Museum in English, this exhibition pays homage to the creator of the Japanese character, Anpanman. Everything inside and outside the museum is dedicated to Anpanman and the other characters of the corresponding Japanese anime. Very cute and colorful with tons of photo opps! Enjoyable for adults, too. #museums #japan #anime
The TOTO Toilet Museum
TOTOミュージアムKitakyūshū-shi, JapanMost likely the world’s best and only toilet museum! Opened in August 2015 to celebrate TOTO’s 100th anniversary in 2016. It’s free, open til 5pm, and architecturally speaking, beautiful. Super hi-tech toilets in the bathroom and even chairs that look like toilet seats. You can even sit on a toilet seat specifically made for a sumo wrestler! The gift shop has some cute stuff as well. Staff are so nice – will give you a free umbrella of it’s raining and you don’t have one! #free #museums #toilets #japanese
The Dekoboko Shindo Sex Museum
Dekoboko Shindo Sex MuseumUwajima-shi, JapanLocated next to a fertility shrine, this is a three-story sex museum that seems to consists of one old man’s collection of sex paraphernalia. Not for the faint of heart because some things in there are truly bizarre. Costs a few hundred yen to enter, no photos allowed. No place like it. #museums #japan #shikoku #gallery
The Firefly Squid Museum
ほたるいかミュージアムNamerikawa-shi, JapanFirefly Squid Museum in English! Namerikawa is famous for the firefly squid that live in its sea waters and you can learn all about them here. You can also touch and “play with them” in a small pool. While they are primarily nocturnal and light up in the middle of the night, you can see them twinkle a bit in the pool. #squid #japan #museums #toyama
Meguro Parasite Museum
Meguro Parasite MuseumMeguro-ku, JapanSay hello to the world’s one and only parasite museum. It’s small, free, and simply something different and quiet to do if you’re feeling overwhelmed by Tokyo’s big city vibes. Located in the cool neighborhood of Meguro, the museum is located on two floors in an office-building. Most info is in Japanese but there is a little English. #free #museums #japan