The Borderless Digital Museum is the hottest ticket in Tokyo right now, but it’s also the great grandaddy of FOMO.
Some days they sell out, so how do you make sure you get in? There are no maps inside, and some of the rooms are hard to find, so how do you make sure you see everything worth seeing? People around you are using their phones to control the artwork – what’s that all about and where do you get the app? And how come the tea bowl of the person next to you at the cafe is doing so much more exciting things than yours?
Here are answers to all your questions, so you can enjoy this museum like a veteran!
BEFORE YOU GO:
Get your tickets online, in advance
If you wait to buy them at the door and they’re sold out that day, you’re out of luck. Here’s the link to the ticket-buying page.
If Japanese isn’t your favorite language, click on the globe icon on the upper right corner of the window to choose a language you’re more comfortable using. The day before your ticket date, they’ll email you a reminder with a link to the QR code for entry. It’ll be for the total number of tickets you bought, but you can send it to other members of your group if you’re not coming together.
Download the app before you go
Search your phone’s app store for this:
I couldn’t get the app to download on site with the free wifi, so to be safe, do it beforehand. Also, there were a ton of people there the day I tried to use it, so my friend Mika got it to load, but mine wouldn’t.
If you want to do the activities in the Athletic Forest, wear the right shoes
This part of the museum is geared toward kids, but who doesn’t want to jump on a giant bouncy floor with stars and planets whirling around you? If you want to jump on the tramp and meander among the color-changing balloons, you need to wear flat, soft-soled shoes(like sneakers). They do loan shoes at the entrance to this area, but it’s safer to wear your own if your feet are a honkin’ foreigner size (meaning anything above a size 7.5 for women, just sayin’.)
Wear white (or a pale color)
If you want to take pictures with the artwork flowing over you, wear the lightest color clothes you’ve got, or the projections won’t show up. (It also makes it easier to spot your companions in the dark if you’re wearing recognizable light clothing.)
Don’t wear a skirt
I see London, I see France, I see ALL your underpants (in the mirrored floors of some of the exhibits).
Eat a good breakfast
There’s no food sold inside the museum,and you can’t bring any in with you. There are drink vending machines outside the bathrooms, and you can get a bowl of tea at the En Tea House, but not a snack in sight.
Get in line before the doors open
You can go anytime during opening hours on the day of your ticket, but if you don’t go early, you’ll have the pleasure of standing in this:
AFTER YOU GET INSIDE:
Hightail it to the lantern room first
Each small group of visitors is allowed inside the “Forest of Resonating Lamps” for only two minutes, and the slow cycle of colors is much longer than that, so sometimes you don’t get to be inside when the ones you were hoping for are cycling through. (Once time I went, they were just white for the entire time I was in there. I’d have been super disappointed if that was my only chance to see them!) A line forms outside this room pretty early, but if you go there first thing in the morning, not only can you enter with very little wait, you can run around and get in line again and again, until you’re satisfied you’ve seen it all.
Here’s how to find it:
• From the Borderless entrance, follow the arrows to the “Forest of Flowers & People”
• After being stopped in your tracks, stunned by the beauty all around you, tell yourself firmly that you can come back here later. Keeping to the left, follow the walls around until you come to a dark doorway leading out to a dim corridor.
• Turn right. Resist the urge to enter every doorway on your left until you reach one enclosed by a wall that juts out into the corridor. You’ll know it’s the right one if you peek inside and there’s an escalator leading up to the lantern room, which you can catch a glimpse of at the top.
• Once you’re inside, you’ll never want to leave. But have pity on the poor staff member who has to politely but firmly tell foreigners pretending not to understand Japanese that their selfie time is up. Every. Single. Time. All. Day. Long. Please head to the door when it’s time. If you’re there early, this won’t be a hardship, because you can go through again.
How to make sure you don’t miss anything
It’s a great pleasure to just wander at will and discover each space as it unfolds beneath your feet, but if you’re anxious about not missing a single attraction, the dim corridor surrounding the central exhibits (the flowers and the waterfall rooms) is your friend. As you make your way along it, keep a sharp lookout for doorways in the outside wall (some will be covered with curtains, and they’re easy to miss). Go into every doorway as you encounter it, and you’ll see everything there is to see.
Editorial note: The only thing I didn’t think was worth the wait was the “Nest” room. There is often a line up the stairs (sometimes a long, slow one), and when you get there, it’s a web suspended halfway up inside a tall room. It’s hard to maneuver your way to an unoccupied spot, because the rope web is always jiggling and wobbling, and it’s dark, so I was seriously worried about accidentally stepping on someone. Once there, the same art that wanders the corridors below projects all around you, but I thought the web really got in the way of enjoying it. Here’s what it looked like from my vantage point:
Play with the artwork
Half of the boggling tech magic of this museum is that a lot of the artwork will respond to touch! Here are a couple of the ones I know about:
• In the waterfall room, if you stand with your back up against the wall, the “falling water” will “splash” off your head, if you hold your finger to the wall, the “water” will flow around it, and if you stand on the structure at the base, the “water” will eventually begin to treat your feet as if you were a rock in the stream.
• The school of tiny fish are repelled by your touch, changing color and swimming in a circle around your finger:
• The falling Japanese characters either evaporate as you touch them, or open a wormhole to a different universe:
• The bunnies and figures marching along the walls will turn and face you if you touch them.
• The animals made of flowers will disintegrate into a cloud of petals if you touch them for long enough.
• Some of the creatures on the floor of the Athletic Forest will pause if you step on them, flowers and plants will “bloom” around your feet if you stand in one place.
• The balloons in the Athletic Forest will change color if you tap them.
• The flowers blooming atop your tea at the En Tea Room will disintegrate into a widening flurry of petals every time you pick up the bowl and drink.
If you discover more stuff, post in the comments and let me know, so I can add it!
Visit rooms more than once
Because the wandering artwork goes in and out of the exhibit spaces (especially the waterfall room and the cave space), the rooms will change a lot during your time at the museum. If you go back, chances are, they’ll look entirely different than when you were there before.
The laser light show room also cycles through several different shows throughout the day, some of them with white lights only, some in full color. Some have quiet sound effects, some have loud music; some are designed to be watched, some are designed for visitors to take pictures interacting with the beams of light.
Drink your tea if you want action
• At the En Tea House, bouquets will slowly unfold on the surface of your tea bowl if you let it sit there on the table, but that’s all that will happen. If you want them to blow apart into a shower of petals, pick up your bowl and set it down again.
• If you want nice pictures, sip carefully and try not to disturb the layer of bubbles on top. The projection doesn’t really reflect from the green tea surface without them.
• The flower projection will find your tea bowl wherever you set it in front of you, but it takes a moment.
And finally, two general anxiety-reducing things:
They’ve got pretty decent free wifi everywhere in the building, so you can upload pix/videos & message your friends with abandon, from any part of the museum.This not only delivers on the promise of it being the most Instagrammable spot in Tokyo, it lets you relax a little about losing your friends inside. It IS really dark, and easy to get separated, so make sure everyone logs into the free wifi before you start exploring, so you can message each other if you have to.
The bathrooms are large and magnificent. The one I’ve used is located at the far left corner of the museum (at the bend of the long corridor that surrounds the central flowers/waterfall rooms), and it not only has a spacious rest area with seating and drink vending machines, there are lots of stalls in the bathroom, so even the ladies room doesn’t have too long a line. If you can’t find it, you can ask any of the staff posted at the doorways, and they’ll direct you to the nearest one, in Japanese or English.
I hope these have been helpful to you – I’ve been back three times, and am still discovering new things in this fantastic installation. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
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Jonelle Patrick is the author of five novels set in Japan
The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon
“A fascinating mix of history and mystery.” —Booklist