6 Unusual Museums in Japan

In most major cities of the world, you’ll find large, prestigious museums: the Museum of Natural History in New York City; the Louvre in Paris; the Smithsonian museums in Washington D.C.

Then there are more offbeat, strange museums. In Japan there are, of course, many large, prestigious museums; but it also, for whatever reason, seems to have a ton of really unusual, weird museums. Some of these are major institutions, but many are run out of peoples’ houses, labors of love to their strange, but fascinating interests.

Here are some of the stranger museums you can visit in Japan:

Sex Robot Museum

During Koichi’s first season of TofuguTV, he visited a sex robot museum (鬼怒川秘宝殿) in the town of Nikko. Not a museum about sex, not a museum about robots, but a museum featuring both.

The footage remains in the TofuguTV archives, as it’s a little inappropriate for TofuguTV for hopefully obvious reasons, and presents many challenging editing problems.

sex-robots

Wow mister tengu, your nose sure is long!

Even if the footage never sees the light of YouTube, here’s Koichi’s impression on the museum:

Technically an animatronic sex museum and not a robot one (robot sounds cooler, though), this gem of a place is located in Nikko, which is mostly known for its hot springs, not “hot springs,” if you catch my drift. When I went we were greeted by a friendly older (and presumably extremely perverted) older gentleman who asked us to take as many pictures and video as possible, something I’m not usually used to. It makes me wonder if he knew this place was on its last legs, so he wanted as much of it preserved on people’s cameras as possible. I could be wrong, but I doubt that it’s still around (and if it is, it probably doesn’t have long to go). It will probably make for a stellar haikyo someday, though.

The museum itself had several “exhibits,” most of them including animatronic naked dudes and ladies doing unspeakable things while the full volumed sound system made sounds like “ohhh Ohhhh OHHHHH” – *machines whirring* – “IYAHHHHH.” They would awkwardly slide/move around in their predetermined paths doing their predetermined things, and each exhibit was surprisingly different . . . yet not so different. Upon exiting the museum part, there’s a gift shop full of *ahem* “interesting” things, a theater for watching, uh, you know, and a half-naked statue of Marlyn Monroe. I think this was their most prized possession as it seemed to be the best taken care of (though unfortunately it didn’t move).

All in all, the hot springs probably would have been a better choice to visit, but I can safely say that this definitely is the weirdest museum I’ve ever been to, so at least I can take away that much from the whole experience.

Trick Art Museums

Whether it’s trying to decipher an M. C. Escher illustration, or getting lost in Akiyoshi Kitaoka’s mind-bending creations, optical illusions are incredibly fascinating puzzles that almost everybody seems to enjoy.

Fortunately, there are not one, not two, but at least three museums in Japan that specialize in optical illusions or, as they call them, “trick art.” Each has its own different theme: the trick art museum in Tokyo seems to favor an Edo-era style of Japanese supernaturalism, while the Takao museum focuses more on Egyptian and Western-style art.

trick-nigiri

You’re not a real sushi chef!

Many of the exhibits at both museums are interactive, or at least present some kind of photo opportunity for visitors. Even though these museums don’t teach visitors about fine art, natural history, or any of the normal subjects covered by museums, any one of these trick art museums sounds like a lot of fun to visit.

Takao Trick Art Museumhttp://www.trickart.jp/

Tokyo Trick Art Museumhttp://www.trickart.info/

Nasu Trick Art Museumhttp://www.trick-art.jp/index.html

Meguro Parasite Museum

Located in Tokyo’s Meguro district, the Meguro Parasite Museum claims to be the world’s only parasite museum: a claim that surprised me, but haven’t been able to refute.

The Tofugu team got the chance to visit the Meguro Parasite Museum earlier this year, and were blown away by this unique collection.

parasite-museum

Despite its small size, The Meguro Parasite Museum boasts an impressive collection of preserved parasites of all shapes and sizes. Among its specimens are frighteningly long tape worms to organisms that had been infested by parasites—I remember seeing a sea turtle’s decapitated head floating in a jar of what I assume is formaldehyde. The museum also features interactive learning exhibits, and a very cool parasite codex (see header image).

The gift shop is great too! After trying to decide between a phone strap and some stickers, I ended up buying an official Meguro Parasite Museum tote bag as a gift. If you know somebody who loves parasites, I can’t recommend a better gift.

Meguro Parasite Museumhttp://www.kiseichu.org/Pages/default.aspx

Suwa Lucandiae Museum

Beetles are, for whatever reason, are a prevalent theme in Japanese culture. Kids catch beetles to have them wrestle, sumo-style, in tiny rings; there are countless Japanese games about capturing and fighting with bugs; and there are several beetle characters in Japanese pop culture (RAAAWWRRRR MEGALON).

suwa-lucanidae-museum

Try not to think about all of the beetles coming alive at once.

Given that, it should come as no surprise that there’s a beetle museum in Tokyo. The Suwa Lucandiae Museum (“lucandiae” is the scientific name for stag beetles) is the ultimate labor of love. The owner, the “Suwa” in “Suwa Lucandiae Museum,” runs the museum out of the ground floor of his house, using his personal collection of beetles to stock the exhibits.

It’s a modest affair, but if you’re not charmed by Suwa’s efforts, then maybe the impressive collection of invertebrates will win over your heart.

You can read more about the Suwa Lucandiae Museum on PingMag.

Hara Model Railway Museum

Model trains are one of those hobbies that seem to lend themselves to obsessive devotees. You might have an uncle who locks himself in his basement to carefully paint his miniature figures and set up replica towns for his model trains to pass through.

One man turned his obsession into a museum. Nobutaro Hara, model train afficianado, decided to take his impressive model train collection, built over his lifetime, and build the Hara Model Railway Museum in Yokohama.

Even if you have no particular interest in model trains, the Hara Model Railway Museum is impressive on its own merits. The care and attention to detail given to the miniaturized trains and landscapes are incredible, especially when you consider that it’s all largely the work of one man.

Read our earlier post for more details about the musuem.

Hara Model Railway Museumhttp://www.hara-mrm.com/index.html

Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum

Unlike most of the museums on this list, the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum is a fairly well-known large museum created by a major corporation, Nissin Foods.

tofugu-cupnoodle

Delicious, custom-made Tofugu ramen.

Outside of Japan, the Instant Ramen Museum seems like kind of a novelty, and is unlike any museum you’ve been to. You’re greeted at the entrance by a life-sized statue of the inventor of instant ramen, Momofuku Ando standing atop a giant container of Cup Noodle ramen.

It only gets better from there. From a hall of ramen where you can see virtually every single type of instant ramen Nissin’s ever made, to a make-your-own Cup Noodle factor, the Instant Ramen Museum is unique, and much more fun than a museum dedicated to flash-fried, pre-packed foods has any right to be.

Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museumhttp://www.instantramen-museum.jp/


There are, of course, many more interesting and strange museums all across Japan; but these are the ones that really caught my attention. Am I missing your favorite museum on this list? Let me know in the comments!

  • DAVIDPD

    Instant Ramen Museum sounds like a true destination!!!

  • derioderio

    I’ve been to the Instant Ramen Museum. It was interesting, but boy, was Momofuku Ando full of himself. It’s not so much a museum of Instant Ramen as it is a shrine to the hubris of Momofuku Ando. The dude seriously thought he was on par with people such as Einstein, Newton, Salk, and M. Curie.

  • Jesse Cadd

    We went to see the play adaptation of Mononoke Hime in Shibuya a while back. It was awful, so we left at intermission and figured we should go do something with our unexpected time alone in Tokyo (our son was home playing video games and having a great time). So we wandered down towards Tokyu Hands and stumbled across the Tobacco and Salt Museum (http://www.jti.co.jp/Culture/museum_e/index.html). It was super cheap, and mildly interesting. We were especially amused by the mock-up of the “local neighborhood tobacco shop” complete with old lady in kimono. The funny thing is, since then, I’ve noticed this same theme several times where I never noticed it before. For example, in the very modern shopping center Aeon near our house there is a tobacco counter with 3 or 4 young ladies in kimonos selling cigarettes. The nostalgia factor is quite interesting.

  • Mark

    When I home stayed in Gunma prefecture, 20 years ago this summer, I was taken on a tour of the earring museum in Shintou-mura. Apparently an archaeologist had discovered some neolithic-era earrings in the area, and it expanded into a museum that included modern jewelry as well as the local artifacts.

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    I’ve been to a few weird sex museums. One of them was in Beppu (Oita Prefecture), but I haven’t heard of the sex robot museum yet.
    I’m not a big fan of museums in general, but I’ve always wanted to go to one of the trick art “museums”.

  • Meow

    I’ve been to the parasite museum and religiously washed fruit and vegetables for years after ha ha…. I could never find the Japanese version of the museum of human disease they have in Sydney… I assumed a Japanese one would be cooler

    http://web.med.unsw.edu.au/pathmus/

  • Joel Alexander

    Hah. I was just going to come and mention the Museum of Human Diseases. =)

  • Haiba

    Missing Maneki Neko museum in Okayama, and Teddy Bear Museum in Takayama. Both worth it! ;)

  • Sarah

    Interesting article. I definitely want to visit some of these museums!

  • Chelsea

    The picture of the Trick Art Museum is a fake. That picture was taken in the Hongdae Trick Art Museum in Seoul, South Korea. Really disappointed by Tofugu for using unreliable 3rd party pictures.

  • Vicky

    I really wanna see the Robot Sex Museum stuff :( Especially if it won’t be there when I visit.

  • lostinplace

    I enjoyed the piggy bank museum in Kurashiki in Okayama.