While it is a city populated by sci-fi style attractions and futuristic architecture, Tokyo is also one of most richly historic cities in the world, and one of the best ways to really learn about the city’s history and culture is through its art. With so many options in the city, it’s difficult to choose where to go, but to help you out we’ve put together a little guide. From performing arts to contemporary versions of historical artisanal crafts, here are some of the best places in Tokyo to visit to get your cultural fill of traditional Japanese arts.
Home to the private collection of Japanese businessman and philanthropist Kaichiro Nezu, the Nezu Museum is one of the city’ most comprehensive collections of Japanese and east Asian art. Here you’ll find a huge selection of art on display, including calligraphy, painting, ceramics, and textiles. The museum was once Nezu’s house, but after his passing his son made it into a public museum in order to preserve and share the impressive collection found here. Inside the museum, you’ll also find a small, lush Japanese-style garden complete with tranquil ponds and small Buddha statues.
National Noh Theatre
Noh is a very unique form of Japanese performing arts. Different from kabuki, and maybe a little more underrated, but really no less important. Noh-style performances require that actors wear super-restrictive masks and long, traditional-style garb and perform in sync to music. This humble-in-size, but striking theatre is run by the Japan Arts Council, which hosts shows on occasion. If you want to see a noh show in action, be sure to pay a visit to the National Noh Theater in Sendagaya.
2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan
Although Akihabara’s neon-drenched streets populated by anime characters and overflowing collectible toy stores seems like the antithesis of classic Japanese art and culture, it’s in fact home to one of the city’s best artisanal shopping strips. Known as 2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan, this collection of stores runs underneath the Yamanote line between Akihabara and Okachimachi Stations (hence the name Aki-Oka). Here you’ll find around 50 different shops and cafés all displaying classic Japanese arts and crafts created by contemporary artisans.
Theater Museum in Waseda University
To learn a little more about Japan’s love of theatre, it’s worth heading over to Waseda University, where you’ll find the city’s fascinating Theater Museum, it’s actually Asia’s only museum dedicated solely to the theatre. Inside the museum, you’ll find exhibits dedicated to classic Japanese performing arts like kabuki and noh, as well as a huge display on the influence of Western theatre on the more modern scene. As well as permanent displays, the museum also often hosts interactive events where visitors are invited to join in on role-playing workshops and games. For more information on upcoming events, be sure to check the website.
When it comes to Japanese art, there’s arguably no form more influential and iconic than ukiyo-e woodblock printing. Located in the historic neighbourhood of Asakusa, this museum is home to a huge selection of ukiyo-e prints as well as textile displays prominently taken from the Edo period. Located an easy five-minute walk from the Asakusa Station it’s an ideal sightseeing spot to add to your cultural Asakusa itinerary.
Washi Paper Museum
Although a museum dedicated to paper might sound horribly boring, the Paper Museum in Oji is far from dull. The museum is home to around 40,000 items covering all facets of the paper world, both the practical and the artistic. Inside this rather striking building, you’ll find displays on the invention of paper, its history, and, of course, origami. If you visit on the weekend, you can also try your hand at making your very own washi (Japanese) paper.
Ome Kimono Museum
Home to a collection of over 500 kimonos, the Ome Kimono Museum is your one-stop kimono shop. It’s a little bit of a journey from central Tokyo, but if you’re serious about kimonos, it’s well worth the effort. The museum is built inside a 200-year-old storehouse. The collection on display changes seasonally, offering no shortage of stunning exhibits. In the exhibits, you’ll find kimonos worn by the imperial family and historical pieces including the outfits worn by Prince Nashimoto at the coronation of Emperor Taisho during the early 1900s.