1. インターメディアテク
    Photo: © Intermediatheque, Museography © UMUT worksIntermediatheque
  2. Tokyo Water Science Museum
    Photo: Tokyo Water Science MuseumTokyo Metropolitan Waterworks Science Museum
  3. Ochanomizu Origami Kaikan
    Photo: Keisuke TanigawaOchanomizu Origami Kaikan
  4. Tokyo Waterworks Historical Museum
    Photo: Tokyo Waterworks Historical MuseumTokyo Waterworks Historical Museum

14 best free museums in Tokyo

Here are our favourite free museums in Tokyo for art, food, history, science and much more

Tabea Greuner
Written by
Tabea Greuner

Some of the best museums in the city such as Tokyo National Museum, Museum of Western Art and National Museum of Nature and Science charge an admission fee, and they are worth it. But the 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 that are completely free to enter. From parasites and origami creations 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.

RECOMMENDED: Tokyo itself is also a work of art – here's where you can see the city skyline for free

Tokyo's best free museums

  • Museums
  • Marunouchi

Located inside the Kitte shopping mall across from Tokyo Station, Intermediatheque (jointly run by Japan Post and the University Museum of the University of Tokyo) is a hidden museum dedicated to the intersection of culture, history and science. It holds a fascinating collection of scientific specimens and cultural artifacts, from steampunk oddities to an imposing menagerie from the natural world.

You’ll stumble upon taxidermy birds and forest animals as well as skeletons in all sizes, from a frog to a minke whale. Perhaps the most compelling exhibit, though, is the story of humans’ evolutionary descent from our ape ancestors, told through progressively taller skeletons. Lovers of biology, history and design will enjoy wandering through the dimly lit halls that remind you of Hogwarts’ library.

  • Museums
  • Ochanomizu

With its fascinating mix of exhibits across three departments – commodities, criminal materials and archeology – this basement attraction in the huge Meiji University building is one of Tokyo’s best secret museums.

The first section is dedicated to traditional Japanese handicrafts such as pottery, indigo-dyeing, bamboo work, washi paper and lacquerware. The next section, which is also the highlight, is where it gets really interesting. It reveals the torture procedures used in the second half of the 18th century to punish criminals, such as haritsuke (crucifixion), gokumon (displaying the head publicly after a decapitation) and ishidaki gougu (putting large rocks on the knees of a sitting person).

As a contrast, there are also some historical Western torture instruments including the iron maiden and the guillotine. There are English explanations, too, should you want to read up on all the details.

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 that 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.

  • Museums
  • History
  • Hongo

This museum traces the history of Tokyo’s waterworks dating back over 400 years. First, head up to the second floor where you’ll find ancient maps of the original water system (known as josui in Japanese) and its wooden pipes. You can even walk through a recreation of traditional homes from the Edo period (1603-1867) and see a replica well.

The exhibits on the first floor depict the history and the technical aspects of the modern waterworks from the Meiji era (1868-1912) until now. This section features various public wells and a sample of Japan’s largest cast-iron pipe.

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, which you'll find in a nearby building in the park, contains wartime mementos.

  • Museums
  • Kyobashi

Echoing the long arm of the law, the Police Museum stretches across six floors, informing visitors about the history and the work of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. Kids will find this an adventurous place to visit as they get to change into (mini) police uniforms upon arrival and pose beside a real patrol car, sit on an authentic Honda police motorcycle with flashing lights, or in the cockpit of a Harukaze helicopter.

On the second and third floors, kids can learn about traffic safety in a cycling simulator and tips on crime prevention through a diorama. Through the many interactive exhibits, children and parents alike are able to understand a police officer’s work, particularly by taking a look inside the replica of a small neighbourhood police station. Most of the exhibits have English captions, and audio guides in a number of languages (English, Korean, Mandarin) are available as well.

Yokohama Chocolate Factory & Museum
  • Things to do
  • Chinatown

Get the full chocolate 101 at this 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 and learn about the culture and history of chocolate in the museum.

After enjoying the free factory tour and museum, you can head to the café for freshly-made treats and drinks. There's also a shop with original goods, including rose-shaped chocolates or chocolates with stunning marble designs.

  • Things to do
  • Classes and workshops
  • Ochanomizu

Origami – the art of traditional paper folding – has been practiced for centuries in Japan, and this is the country's premier origami centre. You can try it yourself using the instructional books and origami paper packages that are available to buy in store.

But you don't have to spend money here to enjoy origami. 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.

  • 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 calligraphy-inscribed gold oblongs from the Edo period (1603-1868), 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.

  • 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 you take tours to observe the manufacturing process of Pocky and Pretz, and even have a go at making your own original candy (tours are free but you'll have to pay ¥500 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.

Reservations essential via phone (048 593 8811) or online.

  • Museums
  • Ikebukuro

This earthquake-prone city is long overdue for a devastating trembler, so the Tokyo Fire Department has created this ‘life safety learning centre’ in its HQ to simulate a real emergency.

There’s first-aid training and survival tips, but the real fun is the shaking room, the smoke maze and the only chance you’ll ever have to play with fire extinguishers without getting reprimanded. The whole thing takes around two hours, and online reservations are required.

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 (1912-1926) 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.

  • 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). The museum also has a library stocked with DVDs and comics that fans can enjoy, as well as an anime theatre.

  • Museums
  • Ariake

It might not sound too promising, but this Koto ward museum turns H2O-related science into a fun and engaging topic using immersive displays and interactive games. You’ll be greeted on arrival by the Wakuwaku Mountain and the Ukiuki Pool, where kids can play with the spray guns and climb into an underwater observation post.

In the small third-floor cinema, the walls and ceiling all become a surround screen, on which you can follow the journey of water from the forest to the city. The subsequent zones, all interactive, expand on the topics introduced in the film: the Aqua Forest focuses on water in nature, Aqua Town explains how water is used in daily life and the staff conduct water-based experiments at the Aqua Lab.

All of which goes to show that, while you might not have given it much thought until now, water science is anything but dry.

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