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](/travel/kinugawa-robot-sex-museum/) (kinugawahihōdono 鬼怒川秘宝殿 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 aficionado, 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.
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.
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.
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 on Twitter!