Free museum days
If you have just one day to devote to museum-going in Tokyo and are interested in Japanese art and artefacts, this is the place to visit. Japan’s oldest and largest museum houses over 110,000 items. Past the ornate gateway, there’s a wide courtyard and pond surrounded by three main buildings. Directly in front is the Honkan, or main gallery, dating from 1938, which displays the permanent collection of Japanese arts and antiquities. The 25 rooms regularly rotate their exhibitions of paintings, ceramics, swords, kimonos, sculptures and the like. The Toyokan building to the right features five floors of artworks from other parts of Asia. The Gallery of Horyu-ji Treasures, which houses some of Japanese Buddhism’s most important and ancient artefacts, from the seventh-century Horyu-ji temple in Nara.
FREE on May 18, plus the third Monday of September
FREE general admission for high school students or younger, and people aged 70 or older
9.30am-5pm (Mon-Thu, Sun); 9.30am-9pm (Fri-Sat)
This is an alternative-history MoMA, one consisting mostly of Japanese art from the turn of the 20th century and onwards. Noteworthy features of the permanent collection are portraits by early Japanese modernist Ryusei Kishida and wartime paintings. The 1969 building, designed by Yoshiro Taniguchi (father of architect Yoshio Taniguchi) was renovated in 2001. Its location next to the moat and walls of the Imperial Palace makes it a prime stop for viewing springtime cherry blossoms and autumn foliage. Nearby is the Crafts Gallery, an impressive 1910 European-style brick building, once the base for the legions of guards who patrolled the Imperial Palace.
FREE on the first Sunday of every month, plus on May 18 and Nov 3
FREE general admission for high school students or younger, and people aged 65 or older
10am-5pm (Tue-Thu, Sun); 10am-8pm (Fri-Sat)
The core collection housed in this 1959 Le Corbusier-designed building, Japan’s only national museum devoted to Western art, was assembled by Kawasaki shipping magnate Matsukata Kojiro in the early 1900s. Considering that the collection started rather recently (in relation to art's long history), it is surprisingly good, ranging from 15th-century icons to Monet to Pollock.
FREE on the second and fourth Saturday of every month, plus May 18 and Nov 3
FREE general admission for high school students and younger
9.30am-5.30pm (Tue-Thu, Sun), 9.30am-8pm (Fri-Sat)
Upon entering, you'll be greeted by a huge globe 6.5m (22ft) in diameter above the lobby, with 851,000 LEDs on its surface showing real-time global climatic changes. The museum holds interactive displays on robots, genetic discoveries, space and astronomy and, perhaps most bizarre of all, a model using springs and ball bearings to explain the operating principle of the internet. There are ample explanations in English, and a good gift shop.
FREE on Apr 20-21 (2018), Jul 9, Nov 3 (2018)
FREE on May 5 for children aged 18 or younger
FREE on Sep 17 (2018) for people aged 65 or older
FREE on Sat for children aged 18 or younger
Designed by Maekawa Kunio, this art museum in Ueno park with an exposed brick facade was largely constructed underground to remain unobtrusive, with limited success. Temporary shows in the main hall feature everything from traditional Japanese art to art nouveau.
Enjoy discounted admission during the family day, every third Saturday and following Sunday of the month, where families with children (under 18 y.o.) get half off the regular admission fee for special and thematic exhibitions. During Silver Day (every third Wednesday of the month), visitors aged 65 or older have free admission to special and thematic exhibitions.
FREE on May 18 and Oct 1
This museum is actually just two rooms displaying a small collection of objects from ancient Egypt. Some of them are replicas, but still good enough for getting a sense for this mystical and fascinating culture. Occasionally, the exhibitions aren't related to ancient Egypt at all, so make sure to check the website beforehand.
FREE on Saturday and Sunday for elementary and junior high school students
Operated by the Itabashi Ward, this modest art museum does not have a permanent exhibition but carries a good collection of avant-garde works from the Edo, Meiji and Taisho periods, especially by artists who had close relationships with the ward. It's a bit of a walk from the Shin-Takashimadaira Station nearby, but a stroll through the Akatsuka Botanical Garden and the Local History Museum will add to your Itabashi visit.
FREE on Saturday for primary, junior high and high school students
When it was originally built, the Mitsubishi Ichigokan was the first western-style office building in the Marunouchi area. Completed in 1894, the building was designed by British architect Josiah Conder on an invitation from the Japanese government, still newly formed after Japan’s opening to the West. At the time it bustled with activity, containing, among other things, the banking division of the Mitsubishi Company. By 1968, however, it had become dilapidated and was demolished. In 2010, after more than 40 years of silence, the Mitsubishi Ichigokan was reborn on the same site as a major new museum, rebuilt according to Conder’s original plans.
¥200 off for repeat visitors; ¥1,000 entrance fee for women after 5pm on the second Wednesday of every month (10am-9pm)
10am-6pm, Friday 10am-9pm
Located next to Hachioji's Soka University, the Fuji Museum opened in 1983 and boasts a huge, sprawling collection that must have cost a fortune to put together. Then again, the museum was founded by Soka Gakkai president Daisaku Ikeda and relies on the organisation's bottomless coffers for support.
FREE on your birthdays
FREE on Sat for junior high school and primary school students
FREE for preschool children and younger
The rationale for this unique museum's pairing of themes is that both were once government monopoly commodities. Tobacco gets the most exposure, with much of the space devoted to the history, manufacture and culture of the killer leaf. Look out for the rotating special exhibitions, too.
FREE on May 5
More cheap thrills
With scores of inexpensive restaurants, bars and hotels for those in the know, Tokyo’s reputation for being an expensive city is mostly undeserved. However, even long-term residents often lament how pricey its art, entertainment and family-friendly options can be. Here’s how and where to beat the system, one ticket at a time.