From traditional craftsmanship to modern art and architecture, Japan's capital has it all. For travelers seeking art and time-honored craftsmanship, Tokyo is tough to beat.
Whether you’re dreaming about visiting Japan or you’re ready to book a trip ASAP, check out these exhibits, classes, and boutique shops that’ll satisfy your craving for immersive, creative experiences.
Museums: Local Art from Past to Present
For an unparalleled introduction to Japanese art, spend a few hours perusing Tokyo National Museum’s two-story main gallery. On the second floor, Highlights of Japanese Art presents the evolution of Japanese art in chronological order, from Neolithic Jōmon pottery to the Edo period. On the first floor, genre-specific exhibition spaces feature everything from ceramics to swords to lacquerware.
Opened in July 2018, teamLab Planets offers visitors to Tokyo a place to not only view colorful works of art, but become part of them, too. Upon entering the museum (barefoot!), guests can wander among its larger-than-life, immersive artworks – you can walk on water, frolic in a technicolor flower garden, and weave your way between floating, jumbo spheres – which are housed in soaring, contemporary exhibition spaces.
In recent years, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has won legions of fans in her native country and abroad with colorful interactive works that include everything from mirrored rooms to enormous, painted pumpkins. Experience a full range of the avant-garde artist’s works at the Yayoi Kusama Museum, which opened in 2017 and presents a collection of her work, along with lectures and other events.
Classes and Tours: Dive Deep into Artistic Traditions
Sword-making is a centuries-old tradition in Japan. Learn expert techniques and the history of sword-making under the tutelage of world-renowned swordsmith Tsuguyasu Matsuda in a private workshop that’s not available to the public.
You can take a privately guided stroll along Omotesando Boulevard to spot buildings in styles ranging from minimalist to ultramodern. The tree-lined avenue is home to fashion houses such as Dior, Gucci, and Tod’s, as well as Omotesando Hills, a lux shopping mall designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando.
“Tokyo’s art scene is really vibrant, but it’s not always easy to navigate,” says Sophie Richard from Richard & Tezen, a leading art consultancy, who recommends a private guide with knowledge of the numerous smaller, more specialist art museums and hidden galleries.
Artisan Craft Shops: Keepsakes You’ll Want to Display at Home
Edo kiriko, a manufacturing method in which colors and patterns are cut into glass, is said to have originated in Tokyo in the nineteenth century. Today, shoppers can pick up glass serving trays; wine, sake, and cocktail glasses; and rare black patterns of edo kiriko at Kimoto Glass Tokyo in the Taito City area of Tokyo.
You don’t have to be an expert chopstick handler to appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into each set at Ginza Natsuno, which specializes in making these traditional Japanese utensils. For an extra touch of personalization, ask the shop’s staff to etch your name – or the name of a lucky recipient – on your chosen pair.
Founded in 1590, Ibasen is a celebrated purveyor of traditional silk and paper fans. The delicate fans, which are available in folded and round styles, feature a range of patterns, from insects to landscapes to anime and manga characters, and come with color-coordinated carrying pouches.
Around every corner in Japan’s capital city, there’s something new or exciting – in some cases, both – for lovers of all things art to see, do, experience, and shop for.