Think museums are dull mausoleums full of dusty dioramas? Think again. Japan’s museums stand out with cutting-edge modernist structures housing high-profile shows by top artists, offering visitors something unexpected and fresh.
Tokyo boasts museums to satisfy every art lover’s cravings – from woodblock prints by Ukiyo-e to National Football Team Gifs on LED canvases, there is sure to be something in Tokyo to meet every craving for creativity!
Miho Museum, established in 1997 and situated in Shigaraki town to the southeast of Kyoto, is an art and cultural center designed by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei. Showcasing an expansive collection of oriental carpets and Japanese art as well as ancient pieces from Egypt, Western Asia, Greece Rome and Southern China the museum displays. Mihoko Koyama founded Miho with the hope that art could bring joy peace and beauty in her community.
Pei’s design embodies this philosophy through the way his building integrates with its natural surroundings, such as by placing 80% of it below ground to avoid impact on nearby mountains and using limestone and concrete construction materials for a softer touch; plus the interior features natural lighting to provide a relaxing atmosphere.
The museum features Japanese art in its northern wing and antique artwork from all over the world in its southern wing, along with numerous facilities like a conference hall and audiovisual documentation room for visitors to enjoy. There are three shops selling light meals within the museum as well as an electric shuttle that travels frequently between it and Reception Pavilion.
Though visiting Japan’s breathtaking landscapes and iconic landmarks is unmissable, don’t pass up on discovering some lesser-known museums and attractions that will give you greater insight into its rich culture and history.
Otsuka Museum of Art
Japanese museums are widely recognized for showcasing world-renowned art, such as Tokyo’s Ghibli Museum and Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Museum, but Tokushima Prefecture stands out from the competition with their groundbreaking ceramic board masterpiece museum featuring more than 1,000 Western masterpieces reproduced to scale on ceramic boards – their colors still vibrant over the centuries, giving visitors the ability to experience them without leaving Japan!
As opposed to many art museums, this one is free and open to the public, making it an excellent destination for families. Furthermore, there’s plenty to see and do nearby including an exquisite Japanese garden and teahouse.
Japan boasts many different kinds of museums that cover everything from history and science to art and more. One museum that stands out is Tokyo’s National Museum of Nature and Science – home to stunning exhibits that cover robotics (like Asimo), IT, space exploration, biology, ecology and more! For science buffs looking for something more educational – take a visit there for your science fix!
Tokushima Railway Museum provides an enjoyable and educational way for children and their parents alike to discover Japan’s railway history. With an expansive collection of trains and locomotives on display as well as hands-on activities for visitors of all ages, plus train simulators that will keep kids amused, this museum makes learning about Japan’s railroad heritage easy!
Trains are an integral part of Japanese culture and transportation, appearing frequently in movies and TV shows. Many don’t realize that you can visit one of Japan’s many excellent railway museums to view real trains up-close and personal. These vast spaces contain tons of knowledge for rail enthusiasts of all ages and offer visitors an interactive experience like no other – making this trip essential.
As soon as you step inside the museum, its sheer scale will strike you. The massive building houses dozens of locomotives and passenger cars from throughout Japan’s railway history; its largest exhibit, Rolling Stock Station, features up to 36 distinct train cars; these range from Locomotive No. 1, Japan’s inaugural steam-powered train when opening their first railway in 1872, to Shinkansen high-speed bullet trains.
Every train car has its own section, providing information about what it was used for and its construction process. There is also an area that explains train operation using simulators, as well as another that displays railway technology through scale models and dioramas.
One of the most captivating sections is the roundhouse platform, with 20 tracks and a turntable, where real train engines operate and you can ride them (at additional costs). Other exhibits of interest are Job Station, History Station, Science Station and Future Station – great places for learning about Japanese railroad history while having fun with kids! Visiting this museum will open your mind to an entirely new appreciation of trains!
Earthquake Memorial Museum
Kobe, which lies closest to the site of the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake, hosts this museum that chronicles its aftermath and recovery. Dioramas and videos provide visitors with an impression of what life was like during and after this catastrophic quake; furthermore a 15 minute video called Living with This City recreates sounds and images associated with earthquakes to give visitors a full experience of what life was like then.
The exhibits at this museum depict personal accounts from survivors and dioramas of homes that were washed away; along with pictures showing damaged cars and objects. Their aim is to educate visitors about disaster prevention – this museum is one of Japan’s most visited and has received great acclaim for raising disaster awareness.
Many earthquake memorials are housed in school buildings that have been preserved and converted into museums (6, 7, 9, 11, 15). This provides visitors with an opportunity to hear directly from school staff about how they prepared and responded to the tsunami disaster.
These museums also provide information and advice for disaster prevention, including earthquake safety tips. In some instances they display items donated from disaster-affected households like plush toys that were donated from overseas residents as well as dishes salvaged from damaged properties.
Local emphasis on 3.11 has contributed to an exhibition trend separating nuclear disaster from earthquake and tsunami events. Even within Fukushima Prefecture itself, which experienced both phenomena, some museums opt not to address aspects of radiation contamination (Gerster 2019; interviews with Kataribe 2020). This has led to an isolation between experiences lived by those living in less contaminated regions vs those in more polluted ones.
Mount Unzen Volcano Museum
“Unzen,” which translates to hell, is an accurate representation of this active volcano located on Nagasaki’s Shimabara Peninsula. A massive eruption occurred here in 1792 that caused a landslide and tsunami which devastated the area and claimed 15,000 lives; thereafter a village made of mud houses was constructed that still stands today; as well as being home to 30 acidic sulfur onsen (“hot springs”) as well as its Disaster Museum which features a burnt elementary school along with information center on Taruki Height information center alongside facilities like Lava Cave Golf Course and hiking trails.
Visitors looking to gain a deeper understanding of volcanology will find their time spent at the exhibition zone worth it; admission required and featuring 11 display areas like the Pyroclastic Flow Road where visitors can witness actual trees damaged by pyroclastic flows; the Heisei Great Daifunka Theater offering vibrations on feet and hot winds during a 7-minute simulation of volcanic eruptions; utility poles and telephone booths damaged by lava; as well as utility poles charred by it all make this museum experience worth visiting – plus it offers cafe, shop media library resources, reading corner!
Shimabara Peninsula has emerged from its turbulent past to create a vibrant local culture infused with nature that’s not to be missed. Visit the Unzen Volcano Museum to get a sense of its history while also appreciating lush flora and spots renowned for their fall foliage displays. Mount Unzendake stands tall above it all – its last eruption in 1991 stunned the nation, yet spurred revitalization efforts to give new life to this part of Japan.