1. Ochanomizu Origami Kaikan
    Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa
  2. 杉並アニメーションミュージアム
    Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Best free museums in Tokyo

Here are our favourite free museums in Tokyo for art, history and even kids

Tabea Greuner
Written by
Tabea Greuner

Some of the best museums in the city such as Tokyo National Museum, Museum of Western Art and Edo-Tokyo Museum charge an admission fee, and they are worth it. But fact is, visiting all the museums in Tokyo – and there are many, including the weird and the wonderful ones – can get pricey.

The good news is, our capital has a large variety of institutions which are completely free to enter. From parasites and origami creations to anime and chocolate, there are lots to see without paying a single yen. So spend some fun yet educational hours at these free museums, and save your budget for a cheap Michelin-starred meal. And if you're still contemplating on whether to fork out that admission charge for the city's major museums, you'll be glad to know that they offer free-entry on selected days.

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Tokyo's best free museums

Meguro Parasitological Museum
  • Museums
  • Meguro

This museum was opened in 1953 by Satoru Kamegai, a doctor who was overwhelmed by patients afflicted by parasites caused by the poor sanitary conditions which were widespread in post-war Japan. This unusual venture displays some 300 samples of 45,000 parasites he collected. The second floor has a display of an 8.8m tapeworm taken from the body of a 40-year-old man, with a ribbon next to it to emphasise just how long 8.8m really is.

Better yet, the shop sells parasites preserved in plastic keyrings − we are not kidding. Entrance is free, but the museum encourages donations. Go ahead and drop your contribution into the clearly marked donation box.

  • Things to do
  • Classes and workshops
  • Ochanomizu

Whether it’s cranes, butterflies or something far more original, origami – traditional Japanese paper folding – has been practiced for centuries, and this is the country’s premier origami centre. You could do it yourself using the instructional books available for purchase, and selected origami paper packages in store come with instructions in English.

On the second floor there’s a small gallery featuring some amazing paper creations, while on the fourth floor you’ll find a studio dedicated to making washi paper.

*Shortened hours: 9.30am-4.30pm, closed Sun & hols

Tokyo Metropolitan Memorial & Tokyo Reconstruction Museum
  • Museums
  • Ryogoku

Following the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, some 40,000 people who had fled their homes perished on this site when sparks set clothing and bedding alight. The fire raged for nearly a day and a half, destroying three-quarters of the city and killing 140,000 people. Seven years later, a three-storey pagoda-topped memorial building was erected; after World War II, the memorial’s name was changed to include the 100,000 people who died in Tokyo’s air raids. The Reconstruction Museum in a nearby building in the park contains wartime mementos. Both buildings are pretty run down and receive little attention. Most of what they do receive is concentrated on the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which honours the war dead. Memorial services are held on 10 March and 1 September at 10am.

*Shortened hours: 10am-4pm, closed Mon (Tue if Mon is hols)

  • Museums
  • Ogikubo

Learn about the history of Japanese animation at this Nishi-Ogikubo museum, where you can immerse yourself in a number of exhibits. It's not all standing and staring, mind – if you're the sort who wants to get involved, you can join one of the museum's anime production workshops or pick up tips at the regular talks given by industry professionals (all in Japanese, natch). The museum also boasts a library stocked with DVDs and comics that fans can enjoy, as well as an anime theatre.

Yokohama Chocolate Factory & Museum
  • Things to do
  • Chinatown

Get the full chocolate 101 at this new multi-purpose establishment inside Chinatown’s amusement facility Yokohama Daisekai. You can follow all the steps of the factory’s skilled chocolatiers through large windows, enjoy freshly-made treats and drinks in the café, shop for some original goods, or catch up on culture and history in the chocolate museum.

To really nuture your inner chocoholic, why not participate in one of their workshops (reservation required), and make your own under the guidance of patient patissiers? Otherwise, their rose-shaped chocolates or chocolates with stunning marble design make the perfect present for a loved one with a sweet tooth.

*Shortened hours: 11am-5pm; Sat, Sun & hols 11am-6pm

  • Museums
  • Saitama

Any fan of Japanese candy should know the tastes of Glico (Pocky, Pretz etc). But how much do you know about their origin and production? If you're interested in that kind of thing, Glico Group has opened a museum that lets customers take tours to observe the manufacturing process of Pocky and Pretz, and even take a bash at making your own original candy (tours are free but you'll have to pay a small fee to make the candy). The tour includes 70 minutes of adventure during which you can look around the factory, enjoy a video clip showing how the chocolate is made, and browse booths that teach you interesting facts about the history of Glico. The museum is just a 45-minute train ride from Shinjuku Station and you can make reservations via their website or by phone.

*Only residents of Saitama prefecture are currently allowed to visit the museum.

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