Throughout my travels in Asia, I’ve managed to stumble upon some pretty awe-inspiring museums. I enjoy traditional art as well as hands-on modern exhibits found in galleries around the world today. My favorite museums are those that combine innovative technology with art and science—shattering perceived ideas and adding a whole other dimension to the viewer’s experience.
I’ve compiled a list of my top 3 favorites museums in Asia that are phenomenal examples of how innovative technology can be used to break the borders of art as we know it (starting from the top):
1. The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (Kanazawa, Japan)
Mana Pool. What you see here might just be my favorite exhibition in the world. This image looks like some kind of mirage or frozen frame from a vaporwave music video, but there are actually living, breathing people going about their daily routines under the waters of this pool. You can even “dive in” and join them—but you can’t jump or use the ladder. Instead you must reach the underwater zone from another entrance (which can easily be found by following the signs).
This pool was constructed with a limestone deck at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan (shortened to Kanazawa 21). A thin layer of water is contained in transparent glass giving it the look of a real swimming pool. However, underneath the glass is an underground room that is completely empty. From the point of view of those who stand at the surface, you can create the illusion that you are walking underwater by taking a staircase beside the pool. It truly is a vaporwave dream that has been realized by the power of aesthetics and science.
In addition to the pool, there are various rooms with simulations you can enter. My personal favorite was “The Killing Machine”. Photography was not allowed in some areas, so I will leave the contents up to your imagination. I found some neat aviation and space exhibits when I first visited. Some exhibits rotate, so please check the Exhibition page for the most recent ones.
This museum is an important part of Kanazawa’s culture because it draws a large number of people to the city. Its design is very modern but somehow fits in the center of Kanazawa’s historic streets because it has a beautiful outdoor park and is near the Kenrokuen Gardens. The outside of the museum has free exhibits you can see as well.
Here is my pool-walking video that I took in 2017. The Swimming Pool is a permanent exhibit that can be seen year round so I hope to return and take better quality videos in the future.
1 Chome-2-1 Hirosaka, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-8509
Entrance Fee: 360 yen for temporary exhibitions (some exhibits are free)
2. Nexon Computer Museum (Jeju, Korea)
Over Golden Week I traveled to the island of Jeju in Korea, but instead of the beaches (which are by far the best in Korea) I was most drawn to the iconic Nexon Computer Museum. Nexon is the company responsible for creating Maple Story and the longest running commercial graphic MMO in the world: Baram, also known as Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds. I was really surprised to see that a modest company in Korea had this award; which makes me think that Nexon is seriously underrated so naturally I wanted to learn more.
When I entered the museum, a wall full of lockers shaped like keys greeted me. Instantly I was impressed with the on-point aesthetics here. The cafe also had keyboard-shaped waffles, or what you’d call “sticky keys” which was another reason I had to travel all the way out here.
The museum is split into 4 floors; starting with the history of computing, then videogames and educational programs, and finally arcades in the basement! I felt a strange sense of nostalgia but also was fascinated with some of the original things that Nexon had worked on. From fantasy MMORPGs to EA Sports, there was quite a repertoire of games you could play here. They also had collections of old Apple computers and the infamous Nintendo Power Glove on display here.
Here is the Guinness World Record for The Kingdom of the Winds on display which was originally launched in 1996:
3198-8 1100(Cheonbaek)-ro, Nohyeong-dong, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
Entrance Fee: ￦8,000
3. Open Air Museum (Hakone, Japan)
While day tripping to Hakone from Tokyo, I discovered the loveliest museum with a stained glass cathedral, Persona-esque sculptures, and even a foot bath outside of the cafe! The Hakone Open Air Museum is almost entirely outdoors and is close to Mt. Fuji so you have the perfect mountain backdrop for your viewing experience. Right as I entered I was greeted by a marble head floating in an empty pool that gave me massive リサフランク420 vibes. There is an indoor Picasso Exhibition Hall as well, but the main draw is the abstract sculptures and mysterious moats on the outskirts:
These sculptures are said to symbolize the balance of harmony and art, but some of them are warped beyond belief and seem to represent a feeling of discord or solitude. I personally thought they looked a lot like shadows from the Persona series; especially the ones wearing masks. However you interpret it, you’ll definitely have a good time here. Especially if you bring some good music.
Here is one of the best shots I captured by climbing up the cathedral with my old camera:
1121 Ninotaira, Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa 250-0407
Entrance Fee: 1600 yen
- Mori Art Museum (Tokyo) – This museum is one of the most frequently visited ones in Japan due of its upscale art and central access. I visited it once and thought it was nice to see, but the exhibits change frequently so it’s hard for me to gauge it. There wasn’t a piece that really stood out to me like in other galleries I’ve visited, but it is worth seeing if you’re interested in modern art.
- Benesse House (Naoshima) – An contemporary art museum on a remote art project island in Shikoku, Japan. There is a beach nearby that you can go swimming at, and it’s absolutely gorgeous! I will be writing more about this quirky art island in a future article.
- teamLab: Everyone is talking about this “borderless” art museum, and it is undoubtedly one of the most high-tech in the world. I’ve been to both the Planets and the new museum that opened up in Odaiba. Both have blown me away with how much work was put into the lighting with the interactive exhibits. It almost feels like you’re living in a neon hologram when you walk through some rooms. However, due to this museum’s popularity, you can only see some exhibits for a short period of time. Unfortunately due to the crowds it is sometimes difficult to fully enjoy things here, but it is worth seeing.
*I will be expanding upon these honorable mentions in future articles. My travel plans have been slowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic so I am currently digging through my archive to create more content.