Edo-Tokyo Museum (Tokyo): Housed in a high-tech modern building, this ambitious museum chronicles the fascinating and somewhat tumultuous history of Tokyo (known as Edo during the Feudal Era) with models, replicas, artifacts, and dioramas. Volunteers stand ready to give free guided tours in English.
Tokyo National Museum (Tokyo): Even professed museumphobes should make a point of visiting the National Museum, the largest repository of Japanese arts in the world. Lacquerware, china, kimono, samurai armor, swords, woodblock prints, religious art, and more are on display, making this the best place in Japan to view Japanese antiques and decorative objects. If you visit only one museum in Japan, this should be it.
Hakone Open-Air Museum (Chokoku-no-Mori, Hakone): Beautifully landscaped grounds and spectacular scenery showcase approximately 400 20th-century sculptures, from Giacomo and Rodin to Henry Moore. Here, too, is the Picasso Pavilion, housing 200 of the artist's works.
Japan Ukiyo-e Museum (Matsumoto): One of the best woodblock-print museums in Japan, this museum displays the largest collection of prints in the world on a rotating basis. A must-see in Matsumoto.
Hida Folk Village (Takayama): Picturesquely situated around a pond with flowers, more than 30 shingled and thatched farmhouses -- many transported from the surrounding Japan Alps -- are filled with farm implements and objects of daily life, providing fascinating insight into the life and times of the extended families that once inhabited them.
Museum Meiji Mura (Nagoya): This open-air architectural museum is an absolute treasure, with more than 60 original buildings and structures dating from the Meiji Period situated on 100 hectares (250 acres) that are beautifully landscaped on the shore of a lake. Western-style homes, churches, a kabuki theater, a bathhouse, a prison, a brewery, and much more are open for viewing and filled with furniture and household items. Mail a postcard from an authentic post office, buy candy from an old candy store, and drink tea in the lobby of the original Imperial Hotel, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Ishikawa Prefectural Museum for Traditional Products and Crafts (Kanazawa): Kanazawa is famous for its handcrafted items, including gold leaf, umbrellas, stringed instruments, Buddhist altars, pottery, and more. English-language explanations and an audio guide explain how they're made.
Disaster Reduction Museum (Kobe): You can't tell by its name, but this excellent museum is devoted to Kobe's 1995 earthquake, with films, dioramas, and exhibits detailing the city's destruction and rebirth.
Ohara Museum of Art (Kurashiki): Founded in 1930, this museum just keeps getting bigger and better, with works by both Western and Japanese greats spread throughout several buildings. Its location in the picturesque Kurashiki historic district is a bonus.
Adachi Museum (Matsue): This museum near Matsue combines two of my passions -- art and gardens -- making it a winner. Japanese modern art is the focus indoors, while the perfectly landscaped garden -- one of Japan's best -- comes into view through framed windows, making it part of the art in a very surreal way.
Peace Memorial Museum (Hiroshima): Japan's most thought-provoking museum contains exhibits examining Hiroshima's militaristic past, the events leading up to the explosion of the world's first atomic bomb, the city's terrible destruction, and its active antinuclear movement.
Benesse Art Site Naoshima (Takamatsu): This is not a single museum, but rather an island in the Seto Inland Sea that's devoted to cutting-edge art, with two museums (both designed by Tadao Ando) and interactive art installations in traditional Japanese buildings. There's no other place in Japan quite like this.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.