Armchair Travel: Visit Japan Virtually

By Gaby Doman

Need a break from the everyday? Experience all the color, vibrance and beauty of Japan without leaving home, then plan your next trip.

Being stuck inside doesn’t mean you have to watch Netflix from beginning to end (although we wouldn’t blame you for doing so). But if you’re craving something more cerebral than Joe Exotic can deliver, explore some of the world’s best museums and galleries, which have thrown open their virtual doors. You can take a look at collections at the Natural History Museum in London, the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and the Vatican in Rome, among others. 

Japan’s galleries and museums are following suit, with some of the country’s top museums—and some lesser-known spots—sharing Japanese culture and beautiful artworks online. 

Gallery hopping in Japan

Google Arts & Culture is a great starting point. Through the platform, you can see high-resolution images of artworks and artifacts within the museums included. Some of the many collections you can explore are traditional cultural pieces that were housed in the Kyoto National Museum to protect them during the Meiji period (1868-1912) when fast-modernization threatened Japan’s historical treasures. You can see Tokyo National Museum’s art and antiquities, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, and many others… The Sand Museum in Tottori, anyone? Some experiences are more immersive than others, with some venues offering interactive virtual tours to help you mentally transport yourself out of your apartment. 

If you feel like you’ve been there and done that in real life, try IJC (Is Japan Cool) Museum, an entirely virtual 3D gallery. It’s a great entry point for those unfamiliar with Japanese contemporary art, with exhibitions by well-known artists, such as Yayoi Kusama, Kohei Nawa, and Hisashi Tenmyouya.

Explore blockbuster attractions from home

Usually there’s a line to get into the TeamLab Borderless interactive art environment in Odaiba. Now, you don’t need to wait your turn to visit the spectacular Forest of Resonating Lamps, the En Tea House and other exhibits. TeamLab has put the experience online on their YouTube channel.

If you’ve dreamed of visiting the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, now’s your chance: the museum, home to your favorite Studio Ghibli characters, has released a series of short museum tours. Since you are not allowed to take photos inside, this is a rare chance to explore the rooms. You can even visit “secret” rooms like the decorative women’s restrooms, or take a closer look at the animators’ sketchbooks.

Virtual cherry blossoms and iconic sights

The experience isn’t limited to galleries and museums. You can even “stroll” around Toyosu Market, Tokyo Tower, Kyoto’s ancient temples, and Osaka Castle

We all missed our cherry blossom parties this year. The blossoms may be long gone, but you can still lay out a blue tarp in your living room, crack open a beer and get your fix online. Weather News transports you to a simpler time when cramming under the cherry blossoms with a sea of drunk strangers was the norm. Its videos show some of the country’s top sakura spots, while Google Earth gives a virtual tour of the world’s prettiest cherry blossom locations, starting with Naka Meguro.  Alternatively, take a POV tour of Japan’s best-known tourist spots, such as Kyoto’s Sagano Bamboo Forest and Fushimi Inari Shrine through “Japan – Where Tradition Meets the Future (VR),” a video created by the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO). 

Live cams for snow monkeys and urban life 

Live cams offer a glimpse of the natural world going on as normal. See Jigokudani’s Japanese macaques bathing in the onsen without a care in the world and the snow slowly melting from the peak of Mt. Fuji. If you’re missing a slice of urban life, or curious how quiet Tokyo looks when the world is quarantined, check out Shibuya Scramble’s live webcam. Marvel at how little traffic is on the roads these days, with a live view of the Shuto Expressway and the trains running through Tokyo. 

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