From traditional performances dating back to the 14th century, to cutting-edge fringe acts, Japan has theatre unlike anywhere else. Tokyo is also the heart of Japanese culture and contemporary art. From national treasures to contemporary art, and even the offbeat, there’s an assortment of ways to be entertained and educated.
1. Tokyo National Museum
The oldest and largest museum in Japan, the Tokyo National Museum is made up of several buildings, each like a separate museum in itself. Together they house the largest collection of national treasures and important cultural items in Japan, with more than 110,000 individual items.
2. Edo-Tokyo Museum
Close to Ryogoku Station and the Ryokugu Stadium, this excellent museum displays models and life-sized recreations of structures and events to show the daily life, architecture, culture, political climate and commercial situation of Tokyo during the Edo, Meiji and early Showa periods to more recently.
3. Mori Art Museum
At the top of a 54-storey skyscraper in the Roppongi entertainment district, the Mori Art Museum showcases an eclectic range of contemporary Japanese art. After touring the galleries, head to the observation deck on the floor below, for wonderful 360-degree views of the sprawling metropolis.
4. Ghibli Museum
The whimsically designed Ghibli Museum is the animation and art museum of Miyazaki Hayao's Studio Ghibli, one of Japan's most famous animation studios. The museum features special animation exhibits showing techniques and exclusive short films, and is a must-visit for fans of Hayao’s popular films.
5. Railway Museum
A train enthusiast's dream, this museum recounts the history and evolution of Japan’s railways. Along with a number of full-size trains on display, and the latest technologies (including future plans), there are life-like simulators that put you behind the controls of Japan’s incredible bullet trains.
6. Japanese Sword Museum
Japanese swords are not only traditional weapons but often regarded as objects of faith or symbols of power. This small museum in Shibuya preserves 152 items, including swords designated by the government as National Treasures. The Archives Room houses about 1,500 historical documents on swords.
7. Meguro Parasite Museum
The Parasite Museum is not for the squeamish but it is definitely interesting. The only museum of its kind in the world, it has a large collection of bugs, worms, and other animals that have been collected from other animals' bodies. Really, only in Japan.
8. Kabuki-za Theatre
Kabuki is like a Japanese version of opera. There are a few venues in Tokyo but this is one of the best. Don't worry if you don’t speak Japanese, English translations are available, which also explain the subtleties of Kabuki that non-Japanese visitors may miss.
9. National Noh Theatre
Noh is one of the oldest surviving theatrical forms in the world, dating back to the 14th century, and historically performed only for samurai and Japan’s elite. Actors wear traditional Japanese costumes and masks in highly-stylised performances. The Japanese Arts Council offers lessons for travellers.
10. National Film Centre
Part of the National Museum of Modern Art, this theatre collects, preserves and recovers historic films. It has a permanent exhibition on the history of Japanese film, and holds daily screenings which include retrospectives of Japanese directors, silent films, and smaller, lesser known Japanese films.