Work, meet play: Tokyo's top 5 undiscovered commercial museums

Work, meet play: Tokyo's top 5 undiscovered commercial museums

Play ball, head underground or soar into space at these company-run fun zones

Part corporate showcases, part cultural centers, Tokyo’s company-sponsored museums are not the dull affairs you might imagine. Instead, these hidden gems are more than capable of providing a great day out, even if they do still make a pitch for consumer loyalty ... and greenbacks.

And although it’s the glossy, state-of-the-art exhibition spaces like the NTT InterCommunication Center and the Suntory Museum of Art that grab the headlines, these five venues offer a taste of the offbeat.

So, go ahead, pilot a subway car, step up to the batter’s box or even scrub your face squeaky clean -- there’ll still be plenty of opportunity to lighten your wallet when you exit through the gift shop.

The Printing MuseumNot exactly hot metal, but the result's the same.

1. The Printing Museum

Located in the headquarters of Toppan, Japan’s second largest printing company, this museum greets visitors with a tableau detailing the history of written communication from clay tablets to tablet computers.

Inside, the exhibition space is given over to displays of printing technology and its products.

A nifty, side-by-side mock-up of a Renaissance English press and a nishiki-e woodblock press illustrates essential differences between Western and Japanese printing cultures.

There’s also a workshop where you can try your hand at making a print using movable type, a form of printing that first came into being almost 1,000 years ago in neighboring China.

Getting there: 1-3-3 Suido, Bunkyo-ku, +81 (0) 3 5840 2300

Hours: Tuesday - Sunday: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., closed Monday

Admission: ¥300

Website: www.printing-museum.org/en/index.html 

Mitsubishi Minatomirai Industrial MuseumMitsubishi Minatomirai Industrial Museum -- a fun-time future factory for all.

2. Mitsubishi Minatomirai Industrial Museum

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has its fingers in a lot of pies -- that’s the lesson visitors will take away from this two-story museum near the Yokohama waterfront.

Themed exhibition zones range from aerospace and shipping to the household and environment, with all of the displays punctuated by interactive exhibits and multimedia presentations.

Highlights include a helicopter simulator -- don’t be disappointed if you crash; everyone does -- and the “Future Factory,” where visitors create their own steam train or concept car.

Getting there: 3-3-1 Minatomirai, Nishi-ku, Yokohama, +81 (0) 45 200 7351

Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., closed Monday

Admission: ¥300

Website: www.mhi.co.jp/en/museum/index.html

Subway Museum TokyoGoing underground -- trains a-gogo at the Subway Museum Tokyo.

3. Subway Museum Tokyo

Even the locals are amazed at the efficiency of the Tokyo subway system, and this museum helps explain what makes the underground railway tick.

Operated by Tokyo Metro, one of the capital’s two subway companies, the exhibition space is notable for its displays of vintage railway cars, quirky advertising posters, and no fewer than three train simulators.

Visitors will pick up trivia galore -- in addition to being Asia’s first underground rail system when unveiled in 1927, the metro, unusually for the time, featured carriages made of steel, not wood. Oh, and the gift shop offers prime souvenir-hunting ground. Really.

(Image courtesy of Rainbow Line.)

Getting there: 6-3-1 Higashi-Kasai, Edogawa-ku, +81 (0) 3 3878 5011

Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., closed Monday

Admission: ¥210

Website: www.chikahaku.jp/index.html

Kao MuseumCleanliness through the ages at the Kao Museum.

4. Kao Museum

As a leading health-and-beauty manufacturer in a country obsessed with cleanliness, Kao Corporation holds a special place in the hearts of Japanese.

That cultural cachet is on display at this museum in Sumida-ku, where visitors are taken through a history of mankind’s efforts to keep itself clean.

Dioramas, vintage grooming implements and period consumer products grace exhibits like “Life in Edo and Views on Cleanliness.” There’s even a cutaway of an early Showa-era home showing how clean folk were even back then.

The final exhibition zone, dubbed “Communication Plaza,” offers -- what else? -- the latest Kao soaps and shampoos.

(Image courtesy of jin-jour.jp.)

Getting there: 2-1-3 Bunka, Sumida-ku, +81 (0) 3 5630 9004

Hours: Monday – Friday: 10 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., closed Saturday - Sunday

Admission: Free, but tours must be reserved in advance.

Website: www.kao.com/jp/en/corp_info/factories_18.html

The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in downtown TokyoTake me out to The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in downtown Tokyo.

5. The Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

All hail the mighty Japanese baseball player -- that’s the message here. The country’s yakyu wunderkind have dominated the inaugural two World Baseball Classics and the national team is a perennial Olympic medal threat.

To celebrate these achievements (and to hawk official balls, bats and programs) the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum offers a historical look at Japan’s national pastime.

Offbeat displays include the “Batter’s Box Experience” and a “pivot viewer” that features photos and stats of all 171 HOF inductees.

(Image courtesy of Osanpo Daisuki.)

Getting there: 1-3-61, Koraku, Bunkyo-ku, +81 (0) 3 3811 3600

Hours: Open daily: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Admission: ¥500

Website: www.baseball-museum.or.jp/index.html

Steve Trautlein is a Japan-based journalist and editor ...

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