Although you may not be planning to travel around Japan with a JR Pass for a while, it’s now possible to explore some of Japan’s best museums digitally and get a good idea of what to expect when you do arrive.
It’s now entirely possible to visit a range of galleries and museums in Japan online via offer a virtual exhibition tour, simply by using the Google Arts & Culture Street View from the comfort of your sofa.
See below for a full guide to some of the best Japanese Museums and what they offer on a virtual tour.
Adachi Museum of Art
Located in Shimane Prefecture, this museum has been dedicated to promoting modern Japanese art since it opened in 1970. The museum is especially famous for its stunning gardens, designed by founder Zenko Adachi, which rank among the best public gardens in Japan.
The museum itself is home to a wide range of modern art from Japan, including a large number of works by famed artist Taikan Yokoyama.
Art lovers can now view over 140 pieces of the Adachi collection from home through the Google Art & Culture Street View, as well as take a virtual tour of the award-winning gardens.
Chihiro Art Museum
Located in the Nerima Ward of Tokyo, this small gallery displays the colorful pastel art of renowned illustrator Chihiro Iwasaki, as well as several other Japanese children’s book artists.
Perfect for kids, the upbeat work of Iwasaki frequently features depictions of flowers and children, and the museum has welcomed over 2 million guests since opening in 1970. Traveling Chihiro Exhibitions have accumulated an additional 2 million visitors across Japan.
It makes sense, then, that the museum now operates a virtual tour of 3 exhibitions that shows off some of Iwasaki’s best art online.
Fukuoka Asian Art Museum
This museum in Fukuoka aims to underline the difference between Asian and Western art and accentuate the unique charm of art culture from a range of countries across Asia.
Lovers of Asian art can now explore the collection from home, as the museum has now launched a virtual tour of over 150 pieces, a generous sample of work which takes in a variety of mediums.
Those who wish to learn about Fukuoka itself, as well as the vibrant culture of the island of Kyushu, are also able to do so virtually via a tour of the Fukuoka City Museum.
Kyoto National Museum
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Kyoto, the city’s National Museum features over 8,000 artworks and a range of both temporary and permanent exhibitions with a focus on pre-modern Japanese art.
Kyoto National Museum is one of the oldest and largest in Japan with a collection including almost 200 Important Cultural Properties and 29 National Treasures.
Nevertheless, it has recently fully come into the modern age with the launch of an online gallery including over 200 pieces of art.
Kyoto Prefectural Domoto Insho Museum of Fine Art
Another important museum located in Kyoto city, this Japanese fine gallery was established in 1966 to display the art of Insho Domoto, widely considered to be one of the best painters from Japan.
In addition to displaying a range of Domoto’s abstract paintings, the museum’s interiors and exteriors also happened to have been designed by the artist himself.
Lovers of the artist’s work, including his masterpiece, can now take a virtual tour online to both discover a variety of Domoto’s revered paintings and marvel at his superior architectural design.
Ohara Museum of Art
Located just a 2-minute walk from the Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter in Okayama Prefecture, the Ohara Museum of Art was inaugurated in 1930 as the first permanent collection of Western artwork in Japan.
Although the museum’s collection was initially exclusively composed of 19th and 20th-century French paintings and sculptures, it now includes works from a variety of international artists, including world-famous American and Italian painters.
Important pieces of art by Gauguin, Picasso, and Monet can all be found in the museum, and over 40 works from the collection can now be viewed on an online tour.
Miraikan, also known as the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, opened in 2001 and is located in Tokyo’s Odaiba district.
The aim of Miraikan is to allow visitors to explore modern technology, the environment, life science, and space exploration through hands-on contact and a range of interactive exhibitions.
Fans of science all over the globe are now able to explore the exhibitions online, including microcomputers and a range of robots to tiny computers, on Miraikan’s Google Arts & Culture page.
National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
This Tokyo museum was opened as the first national space for art in Japan in 1952 and features a range of work dating from the Meji Period to the present day,
The large collection includes a number of illustrations by Shohachi Kimura and Eisaku Wada’s ‘Old Woman’ oil painting, as well as several works by renowned Japanese abstract artists.
The museum has also decided to display a large portion of its collection on Google Street View, including over 120 Nihonga (Japanese-style paintings).
National Museum of Nature and Science
Located in Tokyo’s Ueno Park, Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science is the largest in the country and boasts a range of interactive scientific experiments as well as several natural history exhibitions.
Like many other museums in Ueno, they have recently chosen to implement a virtual tour of 2 exhibitions, the Global Gallery, and the Japan Gallery.
Combined, these online galleries offer visitors over 300 museum pieces to explore, including a number of animal skeletons and taxidermy specimens housed in the collection.
Tokyo Museum of Western Art
Another gallery located in the museum and zoo complex in Ueno Park, the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo was founded in 1959 and remains an extremely popular attraction in the city, attracting well over 1 million yearly visitors.
The only national institution devoted to Western art in Japan, the museum was established around the collection of Matsukata Kojiro. This wealthy businessman devoted his lift and fortune to provide the Japanese public with opportunities to appreciate works ranging from the Renaissance to the early 20th century.
The extensive online exhibitions offered by the museum include a large percentage of the permanent collection, presented in an informative slideshow by museum curators, which makes for an authentic virtual tour experience.
Tokyo National Museum
Japan’s oldest national museum, dating back to 1872, contains both a large collection of artwork from Japan and from other Asian countries.
One of the biggest art galleries in the whole world, the National museum boasts over 100,000 pieces including 89 Japanese national treasures. It mostly focuses on displaying ancient and medieval Japanese art, as well as Greco-Buddhist artifacts.
The online collection is no less impressive, as it allows visitors to explore over 100 artworks in detail on an interactive virtual tour.
Tottori Sand Museum
Nestled among the Tottori Sand Dunes in Tottori Prefecture, Japan’s only art space dedicated to sand sculptures features both an open-air sculpture museum and the world’s first permanent indoor exhibition hall honoring the craft.
The museum’s online exhibition space contains an extensive archive of some of the greatest works created in Tottori by the best sand artists in the world.
The ever-changing displays including sculptures of famous architecture such as the Taj Mahal and Saint Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
Unko Museum Tokyo
Fan all of the things kitsch will be overjoyed to learn that Tokyo has its very own museum exclusively dedicated to poop, located in the Odaiba district, which has become one of Japan’s most buzzed-about attractions.
Unko is ‘poo’ in Japanese meaning that this candy-colored space is fully committed to providing a range of poop-themed interactive games and challenges, as well as a gift-shop fully stocked with toilet-themed goods.
Spurred on by the coronavirus pandemic, they have also created an extensive online space to help beat boredom during the quarantine. This cheeky electronic museum features an interactive chat where you can talk to the sentient Unko mascot, Unberto, as well as a gallery of toilet art created by celebrities.
Unberto is also hosting regular live sessions on Unko Museum’s official Instagram page to answer any questions about bowel movements his fans may have.
Yamatane Museum of Art
Located in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, the Yamatane Museum of Art was established as the first museum dedicated to Nihonga and watercolor paintings in Japan in 1966.
Founder Taneji Yamazaki donated his own extensive collection of Japanese art to the space, including a number of paintings designated as an “object of national cultural significance”.
The museum has also made a large part of its collection available online, including over 50 items on Google Art & Culture Street View.
This virtual exhibition includes several paintings of traditionally dressed Japanese women by the respected artist and activist Uemura Shōen, as well as a huge range of spectacular landscapes dating back to the Edo period.
Osamu Tezuka Museum
The Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum, located in the city of Takarazuka, north of Osaka prefecture, is dedicated to what is considered by many to be the “father of manga“.
In this museum we can see photos of the artist himself, as well as his first illustrations. There is also a series of Astro Boy anime video clips, where you can see how animation has evolved over the decades.
Rember that you easily find many of the virtual tours offered by museums in Japan by browsing the Google Arts and Culture Page.