Tokyo’s newest, hottest museum is dedicated entirely to digital art, and it's the first of its kind. Make the most of your visit with our guide to the teamLab Museum.
Standing in front of a wall of digital flowers. - image © Florentyna Leow
teamLab Museum Overview
If you’ve kept pace with the contemporary art scene, you might have heard of digital art collective teamLab. These self-styled ‘ultra-technologists' aren’t just visual artists. This interdisciplinary crew includes architects, engineers, programmers, CG animators, mathematicians, musicians, and more, which enables them to collaborate and create complex, highly interactive and engaging digital installations.
The museum is just after the Ferris Wheel at Palette Town in Odaiba. - image © Florentyna Leow
With hugely successful pop-up exhibitions in major cities like Shanghai, Seoul, and Tokyo under their belt, it was only a matter of time before teamLab would have their own permanent space to play with. And now, we have their flagship space, which opened to the public on 21 June - the MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless (henceforth 'teamLab Museum’).
Graffiti Nature - High Mountains and Deep Valleys is one of the works in the Athletics Forest, detailed below. - image © Florentyna Leow
The museum is divided into five distinct zones:
- Borderless World, where the boundaries between art and visitor, person and installation, blur. Digital installation artworks are constantly in flux, rendered in real time, changing and transforming in response to people.
- Athletics Forest, a space encouraging you to explore your surroundings with your body, promoting creativity and spatial awareness. It’s also the most kid-friendly zone, with plenty of works and installations that involve jumping, sliding, bouncing, climbing, and generally expending all that extra energy.
- Future Park, an experimental field for collaborative creation - basically, you have an active hand in making the art happen.
- Forest of Lamps, an infinity room filled with motion-sensitive lamps.
- EN Tea House, where, in what seems like an Alice in Wonderland-esque touch of whimsy, you’ll watch flowers blooming in your teacup.
Flowers bloom and wither away on walls in real time. - image © Florentyna Leow
Interact With The Art
Virtually all the artworks here are computer-generated in real time. That’s a huge daily electricity bill, which no doubt accounts for the ticket prices. Many of the installations respond to viewer interaction and touch, and in most cases, that interaction is the whole point.
Little here is tangible. Many of the installations are a bit like traveling performance pieces. Some might not have fixed locations, and there’s no telling where they’ll go. You can’t ‘consume’ everything with a single glance (as can be the case with tangible art), which in a way forces you to slow down and watch the action unfold. You won’t see detailed explanations of the individual artworks at the museum - you’ll find them on the official website.
An essential but barely-mentioned part of teamLab Museum is the music. It’s a mixed bag, but generally feels and sounds like ‘the future’ with an added dose of psychotropics and samples of Japanese folk music motifs. Without the music, the smoke and mirrors just wouldn’t work.
Taking photographs in Wander through the Crystal World, one of the infinity room artworks detailed below. - image © Florentyna Leow
All of this makes a very Instagram-friendly experience. Many people had smartphones in front of their faces while walking in the museum. Perhaps documenting this is the whole point - the digital art experience as seen through the second layer of a phone screen. (Or, as Orwell would have called it, a ‘telescreen.’)
Whether teamLab succeeds in realizing their intentions and goals for a ‘borderless world’ is a topic that merits some rumination (and a slew of critical essays). In any case, the teamLab Museum is worth visiting as a fun afternoon with the family, an escape from mundane world, or as an exercise in pondering the future of digital art and technology.
Many museum goers on the artwork Universe of Water Particles on a Rock where People Gather. - image © Florentyna Leow
teamLab Museum Tips: Things to Remember Before Going
- Buy tickets in advance
This is the first museum of its kind, with a limited number of slots available per day, and tickets are being sold out weeks in advance. Don’t count on being able to buy tickets on the day - purchase them from the official ticketing website.
- Go after 3pm
It’s a relatively new museum, and at present, it’s most crowded at opening hours. But whether it’s because of Odaiba’s location (further out from central Tokyo), people starting to think about dinner plans in the city by around teatime, or families who need to start heading home with their kids, the museum tends to be much less crowded after 3pm. (Mind you, this could change in future.)
I’d wager that there’ll be far fewer museum goers during dinner hours.
- Give yourself time to explore
With over 50 artworks to see, there’s much to experience at the teamLab Museum. You’ll want at least 3-4 hours to wander around taking photos, comfortably immerse yourself in the artworks, and queue up for some of the more popular spaces. It’s especially worth returning to spaces you’ve visited before - like Infinite Transparency, detailed further below - as new artworks may have entered them in the interim.
Depending on how much time you have, you might not be able to see every single artwork. But, to try doing so would be to miss the point of the museum anyway - and it means that you have an excuse for a return visit.
A slide where fireworks and watermelons explore when you reach the bottom in the Athletics Forest zone. - image © Florentyna Leow
- Wear trousers.
While there’s no real dress code, some of the exhibition rooms, like the Crystal World or Forest of Resonating Lamps, have mirrored floors. A few wrap-around skirts are available outside the spaces, we recommend trousers for maximum comfort.
- Wear flat, comfortable shoes.
Museum goers wearing high heels, clogs, or other ‘unsteady footwear’ won’t be allowed to enter the Athletic Forest for safety reasons. Besides the uneven ground, you might be climbing, jumping, or sliding in these spaces. While you can rent sneakers on the day, shoe sizes and quantities are limited, so save yourself the trouble and come in your most comfortable shoes.
- Wear light-colored clothing.
This is a suggestion that only applies if you want Instagram-friendly photos of yourself or your friends. Colours and holograms show up way better on lighter clothing. If you’re wearing black, you’ll fade into the shadows.
- With the jumping and climbing you might be doing, this is not a place you want to be schlepping backpacks in. (Unless you have kids - in which case, bring whatever you need to besides your strollers.) Stash your stuff in one of the lockers at the front, and just bring your phone or a small camera.
- You’ll also want some cash on you - around JPY500 - for a cup of tea at EN Tea House (detailed below), and maybe a little more for vending machine drinks. If you want a second cup of tea at the teahouse, it’ll be JPY200. This is on the Japanese menu, not the English one yet - but ask for it anyway.
- The cardinal rule at almost all museums, especially those in rule-heavy Japan, is TOUCH NOTHING. But at this museum, you’re encouraged to interact and play with the digital artworks - touching some butterflies may cause them to scatter, while tapping the samurai on the shoulder will make them turn around, or fall asleep.
- It’s not a complete free-for-all. Even with the ‘borderless’ concept, this museum isn’t immune to having its own set of rules and regulations, as you’ll see on their website and at the venue. Still, it’s a refreshing change from most straitjacketed museum spaces, and a chance for everyone to let their hair down and their inner child out.
Participants drawing their own animals that become part of the digital artworks in the Future Park zone. - image © Florentyna Leow
- It’s almost impossible to see everything the teamLab Museum has to offer in a single visit. There are around 40-50 artworks, which is a lot. (You can find a complete list with explanations on the official website.)
- Some of the works move from room to room, and aren’t always in the same place. You won’t know when they’ll appear in a room. Many of the artworks are rendered in real time by computer programs, and they’re constantly changing - so you’ll never see the same version of the artwork twice. Some are so popular they require queuing to see or experience, which can take up to 50 minutes.
- It’s not fun to visit teamLab Museum with the express aim of ticking every single piece off the list, and it's why the museum merits multiple visits.
- Instead, I’ve put together a list of highlights during a visit to the museum. It’s far from exhaustive, but think of it as a taster before the real thing. Ultimately, it’s no substitute for an actual experience.
Changing colours in the space Wander through the Crystal World. - image © Florentyna Leow
Wander through the Crystal World
This infinity room filled with strands of shimmering LED lights was a hit in 2016 when it made its debut at e-commerce corporation DMM.com’s building in Roppongi. Now, you can take ethereal selfies any time you visit the teamLab Museum. Plus, you can download the museum app that lets you control the colour scheme in this room - just scan the QR code displayed at the museum entrance. There’s free unsecured WiFi throughout the museum, too.
Musicians in a parade collide with fish as they enter this space. - image © Florentyna Leow
You’ll know you’ve found the Cave Universe when you encounter a space with slightly curved walls, starting from the floor up. This space can give you mild vertigo - the artworks that pass through move across the floor you’re standing on and all around, as though you’re suspended in a cave-shaped universe. What an appropriate name.
Several artworks pass through this space, like Walk, Walk, Walk: Free Infinity and The Way of the Sea, Transcending Space - Colors of Life. The former sees Edo-period figures traipsing through a starry night sky, traditional folk musical motifs layered on top of a xylophone-like countermelody. The latter sees schools of glowing fish zipping and spinning through the galaxy, with plenty of emotive, soaring, strings-heavy orchestral music to go with it. Both straddle the border between sheer creativity and shrooms-induced hallucinations.
The staff will point out the best place to enjoy the light shows spinning across the walls. It’s less obviously photogenic than some of the other works, but it was one of my favourite spaces in the museum.
A creature made of flowers stalking along the wall. - image © Florentyna Leow
Keep your eyes on the walls while you’re exploring, especially if they look like ordinary corridors. These are where many of the artworks are ‘in transit’ from space to space. You might see parades of rabbits carrying frogs, rivers of lotuses or cherry blossoms drifting through, animals made from golden flowers that scatter petals in their wake when touched.
Sheets of glass hang from the ceiling in this room. - image © Florentyna Leow
A room filled with large sheets of glass suspended in rows. A few artworks originate in this space and drift outwards into the corridors. One was Peace can be Realized Even without Order, with each sheet of glass housing a single dancer or musician. Sometimes they’d stop or react if someone walked by. As a friend noted, it recalled hundreds of trapped spirits.
At other times, you might see flower animals stalking across the glass panes, or a sea of giant, luminous, blooming pink lotuses.
A thousand lamps suspended in a mirrored room. - image © Florentyna Leow
Forest of Resonating Lamps
Quite possibly the most photogenic space in the museum, this mirrored room is filled with 1000 motion-sensitive lanterns suspended at varying heights and spaces throughout, each one glowing gently, shifting from blues to pinks, oranges and greens.
While it can no doubt be delightfully dreamlike when given enough time to enjoy the experience, this is also one of the most anticlimactic artworks - no thanks to the 45-minute queue to enter this space for just under two minutes. Once you get in, pretty much all anyone is doing is frantically snapping photos. As pretty as this room is, I enjoyed watching the animals and samurai walk on corridor walls far more. It is, however, one of the most Insta-friendly spaces in the museum.
Continuously crashing waves on a wall. - image © Florentyna Leow
At some point, you’ll stumble across a circular room whose walls are filled with ocean waves swelling and crashing continuously. Lie down on one of the ultra-comfortable bean bags and watch them ebb and flow. Great for a little meditation or just losing yourself in the hypnotic waves.
In a ‘paddy field’ with digitally-rendered maple leaves moving across. - image © Florentyna Leow
Memory of Topography
Near the Black Waves space is this large room, filled with circular disks suspended on bendy stems. As you walk through the room, you emerge above to gaze on a paddy field of sorts, where you’ll see projections of maple leaves, fireflies, insects, flowers, and more, depicting the changing seasons. Occasionally, schools of fish might swim in from the outside. The music here is rather reminiscent of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s oeuvre.
Inside the Weightless Forest of Resonating Life. - image © Florentyna Leow
Weightless Forest of Resonating Life
Who doesn’t like huge bouncy balloons? These are fun to bop and gently push and bounce around. The only jarring note here is the staff constantly yelling at you (and the kids) not to kick, throw, or toss the balloons - which is reasonable, but less fun for the museum experience.
Bouncing on a trampoline to create planets. - image © Florentyna Leow
Multi Jumping Universe
Kids and adults alike love this one, though you’re almost certain to see more kids at this one. Jumps in one spot on the trampoline to create new planets or bounce across, leaving a trail of stars in your wake.
Moving the tea bowl scatters petals on the table. - image © Florentyna Leow
EN Tea House
Save this tea house for the end of your visit, when you’ve fatigued yourself out with all the exploring. Located just before the entrance to the Athletic Forest on the second floor, you’ll pay JPY500 to be presented with a wide bowl of tea. (Try the yuzu.) Watch digital flowers bloom inside your cup. Move the cup to scatter the petals onto the table. Take a sip, repeat. The flowers will bloom as long as you have tea in your cup - infinitely, as the museum says.
The museum is clearly signposted from both the nearest stations. - image © Florentyna Leow
How to get to teamLab Museum:
Whether you’re arriving at Tokyo Teleport Station on the JR Rinkai Line or at Aomi Station on the Yurikamome Line, directions to teamLab Museum are very clearly signposted in English. When you exit the ticket barriers, keep following the signs and you’ll end up at the museum.
MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLab Borderless
138 Odaiba Palette Town, Aomi, Edogawa-ku, Tokyo-to
東京都 江東区 青海 138 お台場パレットタウン
Aug 1 - Sep 2 Mon–Sun, Holiday Eve & Holiday 10:00am - 10:00pm
Mon–Thu 11:00am – 7:00pm
Fri & Holiday Eve 11:00am – 9:00pm
Sat 10:00am – 9:00pm
Sun & Holiday 10:00am – 7:00pm
JPY3200 (Adults), JPY1000 (Children up to middle school age)
Train: 5-minute walk from Aomi Station on the Yurikamome Line or 7-minute walk from Tokyo Teleport Station on the JR Rinkai Line
+81-3-6406-3949 (10:00am - 6:00pm)
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