ADMT Advertising Museum
Photo: Shinichi Sato

Best free museums in Tokyo

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

By Tabea Greuner
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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 vintage fire trucks and original police cars to picture books 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.

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.

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貨幣博物館
貨幣博物館

Currency Museum

Museums Nihonbashi

Run by the Bank of Japan, this museum traces the long history of money in the country, from the use of imported Chinese coins in the late Heian period (12th century) to the creation of the yen and the central bank in the second half of the 19th century. See beautiful, Edo-era, calligraphy-inscribed gold oblongs, occupation-era notes from Indonesia and the Philippines, Siberian leather money and Thai leech coins. Or get the feel for some serious dosh by lifting ¥100 million (about the size of two phone books), safely stored inside a perspex box.

ADMT Advertising Museum
Photo: Shinichi Sato

ADMT Advertising Museum Tokyo

Art Shiodome

This fab museum is devoted to Japanese advertising, from fascinating 17th-century woodblock prints to modern product-placement techniques. Although English explanations are limited, the images largely speak for themselves. Inspired technology allows touch-screen browsing of historic ads and on-demand viewing of award-winning commercials from the past three decades. The museum also contains a library of over 100,000 digitised images.

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JCII Photo Salon

Art Hanzomon

This photo gallery is located next to Hanzomon Station and hosts a variety of photography exhibitions. Housed in the same building as the Japan Camera Museum and the JCII Library.

Japan Stationery Museum

Museums Asakusabashi

Exhibits range from flints and a tablet from Mesopotamia through Egyptian papyrus to abacuses and typewriters with interchangeable kanji keys. One highlight is a 14kg (31lb) brush made from the hair of over 50 horses. Descriptions are in Japanese.

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Mitaka Picture Book House in the Astronomical Observatory Forest

Kids Mitaka

This community centre for kids is found on the spacious premises of Mitaka's National Astronomical Observatory, and occupies a Taisho-era building that used to house leading astronomers' offices. A wide range of picture books can be viewed and browsed, while fun workshops for the young 'uns also take place regularly. Adults will want to check out the nearby observatories and a museum documenting the facility's history.

Suginami Animation Museum

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.

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