Tokyo Art & Culture Guide
As the capital of Japan, Tokyo is steeped in a deep history of vibrant arts and culture which are still alive and popular today. In the city, visitors can find everything from sumo matches and kabuki shows to see, a samurai museum and a variety of traditional art galleries to explore. Not to mention Disneyland and a host of wonderful and varied districts to get lost in.
Each area of Tokyo holds its own traditions and art scenes, and this art and culture bleed into the fashion, food, and architecture. There may not be a greater variety of arts and traditions to be found in a single city on Earth. Discover some of the unmissable spots while in Tokyo.
If you’re looking for incredible things to do around the rest of Japan then don’t miss this bumper article we wrote for Seeker.
Each of the websites linked to has clear directions of how to get to the places mentioned but if you need any help, drop a question in the comments below!
This is the pinnacle of museums in Japan featuring everything that symbolises ancient Japan such as art, historical documents, and archaeological items. Totalling 110,000 items this beautiful museum found in Ueno Park is one of Japan’s oldest and most celebrated. Opened in 1872, Tokyo National Museum is recommended for anyone who wants to learn more about and East-Asian culture and history. Most of their exhibitions are fixed but they do have various seasonal displays so it’s always worth checking their website for more details. You’ll find several other museums right next door including the Natural History Museum if you want to carry on the education.
Related: Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri
Take the Tennozu Island Art Walk:
This waterside neighbourhood was once derelict but after a huge drive to restore the area it has now become a bit of an art hub and features some of the best street art in Tokyo. By following the art walk trail you’ll be able to see everything this area has to offer. Various pieces of graffiti are permanent fixtures but there’s always more being created making it a dynamic place to explore. Aside from the art, the area is surrounded by canals and is a unique and relaxed experience away from busy central Tokyo. You can walk there from Shinagawa Station.
Shop at Nakamise Shopping Street:
A legendary street and one of the oldest shopping centres in Japan. This mix of 90 shops and stalls selling various Japanese souvenirs and antiques, some dating back to the Edo area, leads up to Sensoji Temple and dates back to 1688. Favourites include the vintage clothing stalls where you can pick up kimono and other beautiful Japanese style clothing.
Get Lost in Animation at the Studio Ghibli Museum:
One of the most visited museums in Japan and a wonderful testament to the Japanese animation industry is the Ghibli museum. To fans, this place needs no introduction, but whether you’re a fan of Miyazaki and his films or not, there’s no better place to see the history of Studio Ghibli and watch the methods behind some of the most renowned animated films of all time: Spirited Away, Totoro, and Princess Mononoke (and many more). You can expect to see concept art, statues, animated shorts, and toys.
Go Cuisine Crazy at Tokyu Food Show:
A small paradise beneath Shibuya station, located in the basement of Tokyu Toyoko Department Store, Tokyu Food Show is a collection of thousands of stalls and stores showcasing the best of Japan’s food, drink, and dessert culture. It’s been called a ‘theater of food’ and that is certainly an apt name for it. Here, shoppers can enjoy the full range of Japanese culinary delights: speciality foods and dishes from all over the country, all in one place. From chicken karaage and onigiri to fresh sushi and sashimi, there is something for anyone and everyone here.
Explore the Life of a Celebrated Artist at The Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum:
Taro Okamoto was a renowned Japanese painter of avant-garde style who passed away in 1996. Following this, his home was preserved in the form of a memorial museum. Here, visitors can see (and marvel at) not only his original paintings and sculptures, but also peruse his own personal workspace, allowing a rare glimpse into the life – both the workspace and living space – of a celebrated artist. A glimpse like this one is rare and certainly an inspirational visit. The gift shop also offers Okamoto-related souvenirs and books to take home and enjoy.
Watch a Sumo Match at Ryogoku Sumo Hall:
To this day, sumo is considered the national sport of Japan and is certainly the most famous sport to come out of Japan. The goal, as most people will know, is for one of two combatants to unbalance the other and knock them out of the ring. The sport is an incredible sacred event with a deep cultural history, and tournaments are very frequent in Tokyo. Ryogoku is the best place to see the big events, and the atmosphere is electric. The ceremonies at the beginning and end are enough the enthral audiences, and the matches are often short but intense. You can buy sumo tickets here.
Get Lost in Colour at teamLAB Borderless:
Borderless is an interactive and immersive art experience. Experience is probably the operative word here, as opposed to ‘exhibit’ or ‘show’. Here you walk through and between rooms designed to react to your touch and movement. The art blends together and shapes itself around your experience, giving one the experience of living in another world, virtual or extra-terrestrial. It’s a truly spellbinding and unique experience. You can buy your tickets at the door, on their website or from here.
Admire Great Art at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum:
Japan’s first public art museum, which opened in Ueno park in 1926. In addition to the special exhibitions and regular exhibitions, visitors can enjoy relaxing in the art lounge or restaurant. There’s a real range of styles here and it can take hours to get around the whole building. Situated in Ueno Park, you can easily combine this with a stroll around the ground or one of the other museums there. You’ll find The Museum of Modern Art and The Museum of Western Art right next door.
Cover Three of the City’s Newest Museums at Art Triangle Roppongi:
A triangle of museums including The National Art Cente, The Suntory Museum of Art which celebrates the idea of ‘art in life’, and the Mori Art Museum. Spend a day wandering the museums in Roppongi then enjoy the nightlife.
Step Back in Time at the Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum:
An open-air architectural museum where structures such as old merchant homes and bathhouses can be viewed while enjoying nature walks. A great way to take some olde worlde pictures while in Tokyo. This tour of the museum not only makes what you’re seeing a lot more relatable but also includes a Ghibli portion since many of the Edo style buildings in the museum inspired Miyazaki.
Marvel at the Amour and Paintings at the Tokyo Samurai Museum:
Nestled in Shinjuku, the Samurai Museum is one of the most convenient and fun museums to go to while in Tokyo. Apart from learning about the history of the samurai, you see countless original samurai armour and weapons, see a short demonstration of fighting techniques and get to wear some of the armour yourself. The gift shop is also rather fun. You can buy tickets at the door or from here.
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Jess is the creator and editor of Books and Bao. She's passionate about the world, it's literature, food, culture, and people. She enjoys sharing her travel tips with others and capturing those perfect moments.