As you explore the winding roads of Tokyo—small alleyways lined with lanterns, bustling walkways beneath neon signs, gardens dotted with cotton-candy pink cherry blossom trees—you’re bound to stumble upon some of the best art in the city. Tokyo has an abundance of world-class art museums and galleries, featuring everything from cutting-edge, contemporary exhibits to ancient Japanese treasures that are beyond bucket list worthy. From giant Instagrammable digital art complexes to low-key looks into the local art scene in the suburbs of Tokyo, there’s something for every type of art lover in this creative city.
Located in one of the most stylish areas of Tokyo, The Mori Art Museum is a unique, contemporary art museum that features work from prominent artists like Ai Wei Wei and Takashi Murakami. This museum rests atop the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills, a new development that features luxury shopping, as well as tasty food and entertainment. With huge exhibits that are fun and accessible, the Mori is loved by both locals and tourists. Past exhibitions have included interactive optical illusions, deep-dives into Japanese pop culture, a collection of art by Tim Burton, and indoor/outdoor experiences that overflow into the rest of the Roppongi Hills complex.
Pro Tip: While there, check out the museum cafe, which has current exhibition-themed treats and a breathtaking view of the city.
Since it opened in 2018, teamLab Borderless has offered a unique immersive visual arts experience that has revolutionized the way we think about contemporary art. Built on the concept and belief that technology can be used to expand and enhance visual arts, teamLab Borderless is a total “must see” for visitors and tourists. While a popular spot for celebrity photos and Instagram moments, the museum is not exclusive and has a reasonable 3000 Yen ($27 USD) entrance fee. Enjoy taking stunning pics and escaping into a virtual world that exists beyond borders.
Pro Tip: Student on a budget? Bring your student ID and you’ll get great discounts at all of the museums and galleries on this list.
Within a 10-minute walk from Roppongi Station sits one of the largest exhibition spaces in Japan. The National Art Center is an intricately designed museum, featuring temporary exhibitions, including world-famous artists like Monet and Magritte. While situated in an area that’s famous for shopping and nightlife, this museum is a small oasis of beautiful grounds away from the busy streets. The architecture of the building is truly striking and encompasses the multi-exhibition space, gift shop, and chic cafe.
For emerging contemporary artists in Tokyo, look no further than the trendy and intimate Kaikai Kiki gallery, located in the sophisticated residential area of Hiroo. On first pass, you might miss the entrance, as it is unsuspectedly hidden down a flight of stairs in an office building. The gallery was established by world-famous Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, with the goal of offering a more low-key experience in the city — a chance to see emerging artists’ work that has been chosen by Murakami himself (for free!).
Pro Tip: Check to see if there are any opening parties at Kaikai Kiki during your stay. Openings are stocked with tasty drinks and offer the chance to interact with the art community in Tokyo.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo is one of the largest museums in the city, home to an almost-endless selection of contemporary art, as well as unique exhibitions featuring established artists from all over the world. The museum grounds also house a massive library, a gift shop, cafe and restaurant. The surrounding park was built to explore, along with nearby attractions such as Akihabara and the Tokyo Skytree.
At the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, museum-goers are invited to see the work of some of Japan’s best photographers — both established and up-and-coming. The museum is located near Ebisu station Meguro, which is a beautiful area of the city full of delicious food and fun shopping, as well as one of the most famous places to see cherry blossoms.
Within the bounds of the sprawling Ueno park lies the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. This museum has five different galleries dedicated to Japanese art, as well as the sixth gallery for special exhibitions. Some of its famous exhibitions include exhibits featuring Van Gogh, Munch, and Klimt. Along with housing a carefully curated collection of work, this museum also offers educational insight into the history and ideals of the artistic masters featured.
Ueno Park is one of the most beautiful parks in Tokyo, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum is perfect for any day trip to the area. Definitely worth the visit!
The Nezu Museum is home to an extensive collection of pre-modern and East Asian art from the private collection of Nezu Kaichiro (1860-1940). Some items included in the collection are Chinese bronzes of the Shang and Zhou dynasties, paintings, calligraphy, sculpture, and even some archaeological materials.
The museum is about a five-minute walk from Omotesando Station, and the area surrounding the gallery, Omotesando, is considered one of the foremost ‘architectural showcase’ streets in the world, featuring international boutiques and fashion flagship shops lining either side of the famous road. The Nezu gallery itself is well known for having a beautiful bamboo-lined entryway and an expansive traditional Japanese-style garden for museum-goers to explore. Harajuku and Omotesando are known for super fun boutique shopping experiences, but I recommend anyone visiting the area to take a moment to enjoy the quiet oasis that The Nezu Museum offers amongst the consumer metropolis.
Yayoi Kusama is a newly-opened contemporary art museum that presents major works from the influential Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Kusama has international acclaim, with exhibitions selling out from New York City to London. Kusama created the concept for the museum to allow fans an opportunity to have a deeper understanding of her work, with plenty of space for lectures and events. Kusama’s work includes that of sculpture, film, fashion, painting, and abstract expressionism. Her work carries meanings of feminism, sexuality, autobiographical, and psychological content. This museum is just outside of the busy metropolis of Shinjuku, located within the more low-key suburbs of the city.
The Ghibli Museum was created to celebrate all things Studio Ghibli: memorabilia from Howl’s Moving Castle, My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky, and more. The indoor exhibits showcase the animation and creative process of Hayao Miyazaki, providing true insight into the careful details and thought put into every masterpiece. While the museum may seem like it skews towards a younger audience, don’t you worry: there’s something for everyone on Ghibli Museum’s playful grounds.
Pro Tip: It can be tricky getting tickets to the Ghibli Museum. You can either order the tickets 3 months in advance online overseas (here’s a guide), or purchase tickets at any Lawsons in Tokyo on the 10th of the month prior to the month you intend to visit the museum.
The Sumida Hokusai Museum is dedicated to showcasing the work of the famous Japanese Ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). Hokusai is most famously known for his print “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa and Red Fuji,” which remains one of the most iconic images depicting traditional art of Japan. Including both originals and high-quality replicas of Hokusai’s prints, the museum also houses a wealth of information about his life and work. The museum is located in Sumida, where Hokusai himself was born. If you have a full day to explore, close by is the Sumida aquarium, as well as other attractions like the Edo Tokyo Museum, which features more historical artifacts from ancient Japan.
Tokyo City thrives on innovation, and there is no better place to see progress than at The 21 21 Design Sight. Created by fashion designer Issey Miyake and architect Tadao Ando, 21 21 Design Sight is, in concept and execution, “a place for researching the potentiality of design as an element that enriches our daily life, a place that fosters the public’s interest in design by arousing in them different sights and perspectives on how we can view the world and the objects surrounding us.” For art, fashion, and architecture lovers, 21 21 Design Sight Museum is a place to discover how design expands into all areas of our life on a global scale.