Shirakawa-go, Shirakawago
Photo: Rap Dela Rea/UnsplashShirakawa-go

Survey ranks the 10 best outdoor museums in Japan

These top-ranking open-air museums range from gassho-zukuri houses to beautifully preserved Edo-style buildings

Kaila Imada
Written by
Kaila Imada

With spring comes the time to spend some quality time outdoors again. Japan is home to some amazing outdoor art museums where you can take in some fresh air while strolling around the beautifully landscaped grounds dotted with art.

If this sounds like a fun day out, here’s a ranking of the top ten open-air museums across Japan as released by Japanese lifestyle website Seikatsu Guide. These attractions, as ranked by votes collected from members of the website, include some surprising, off-the-beaten track venues as well. Since the ranking is in Japanese, we’ve reproduced the list here in English. 

Gassho-zukuri Minkaen, Shirakawa-go
Photo: Wave Dash Co., Ltd.Gassho-zukuri Minkaen, Shirakawa-go

1. Gassho-zukuri Minkaen, Shirakawa-go

This outdoor museum in Gifu prefecture is well-loved for its fairytale-like gassho-zukuri-style farmhouses, whose steep thatched-roofs are iconic to Shirakawa-go. The expansive grounds cover 25 buildings, nine of which are designated as important cultural properties, and all are open to the public. The well-preserved heritage village, complete with a temple and watermill, offers an insight into the unique culture and lifestyle that once thrived in the region.

Little World, Inuyama
Photo: Wave Dash Co., Ltd.

2. Little World, Inuyama

Little World in Aichi prefecture is a museum and theme park showcasing different cultures from around the world. There are 23 countries represented in the open-air museum, including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Germany and France. Spend a day here browsing through roughly 6,000 artifacts from clothing and food to household items. You can also sample signature dishes from around the world and catch cultural performances on weekends.

Kirishima Open Air Museum, Yusui
Photo: Wave Dash Co., Ltd.

3. Kirishima Open Air Museum, Yusui

Found in Kagoshima prefecture, this outdoor art museum is sometimes called a 'sculpture park' due to its collection of works by world-renowned sculptors. There are a total of 23 artworks set across the expansive 20-hectare land, in addition to an indoor Art Hall where exhibitions change three to four times a year. Highlights from the museum include a large flower installation by Yayoi Kusama and an 8m-tall steel sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky.

Edo Tokyo Open-Air Architectural Museum, Koganei
Photo: Wave Dash Co., Ltd.

3. Edo Tokyo Open-Air Architectural Museum, Koganei

Tied for third place is the Edo Tokyo Open-Air Architectural Museum. This Tokyo attraction is home to restored historical buildings from the early Edo period (1603-1867) to the Showa era (1926–1989). You can walk into private residences, quaint old town shops, an old bathhouse and a mausoleum for a shogun's wife.

Abashiri Prison Museum, Abashiri
Photo: Wave Dash Co., Ltd.

5. Abashiri Prison Museum, Abashiri

This historical museum in Hokkaido is made up of buildings once used as the Abashiri Prison during the Meiji era (1868–1912). The oldest building here was constructed about 120 years ago, and you can see how logs of wood were sawed into boards by inmates without the use of machines. Here you can even try out a prison meal for lunch.

Sapporo Art Park
Photo: Onyu/PixtaSapporo Art Park

6. Open-air Museum of Sapporo Art Forest, Sapporo

Up north in Hokkaido, this outdoor art complex features a museum, art studio and outdoor stage. You'll find 74 sculptures by 64 contemporary artists, both Japanese and international, scattered across the forest.

Photo: Fuchu City Local Forest Museum
Photo: Fuchu City Local Forest Museum

7. Fuchu City Local Forest Museum, Fuchu

This open-air folk museum in Tokyo focuses on history, folklore and nature. Aside from the main museum, the grounds also feature a planetarium, old farmhouses and historical buildings from various times in Japanese history. Come summer, the museum plays host to a hydrangea festival with roughly 10,000 flowers in bloom.

Tobu World Square
Photo: Keisuke Tanigawa

8. Tobu World Square, Nikko

Head to this outdoor architecture museum in Kinugawa Onsen to see scaled down reproductions of 102 world-famous buildings and World Heritage Sites. Expect to see Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Station, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Egypt's Pyramid of Menkaure, the Parthenon in Greece, Spain's Sagrada Familia Church and many more.

Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park
Photo: Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park

8. Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park, Shiraoi

Tied for the eighth spot is Hokkaido’s Upopoy National Ainu Museum and Park dedicated to the revival and development of Ainu culture. Explore the museum as well as the National Ainu Park where you can watch traditional dance performances and participate in hands-on activities. 

Historical Village of Hokkaido, Sapporo
Photo: Teerapong Nantavasin/Dreamstime

10. Historical Village of Hokkaido, Sapporo

Tucked away in the suburbs of Sapporo, this open-air museum exhibits roughly 60 buildings from all over Hokkaido dating back to the Meiji era and Taisho period (1868-1926). The Historical Village of Hokkaido is separated into four sections and it includes a town, a fishing settlement, a farm and a mountain village.

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