Seriously, if you come to Tokyo and see nothing else, see THIS
When was the last time you went to a museum and totally lost track of time because it was so entertaining? I expected a permanent installation dreamed up by the gifted artists and techies at TeamLab to be pretty damn good, but I never dreamed it would be THIS good. There’s really nothing like it, anywhere on earth.
It’s truly a world without horizons, and it’s constantly changing and unfolding around you. You’re warned before you enter that there are no maps, that some rooms are hard to find, and that some of the artwork moves from room to room, so the spaces will be different each time you enter them. (This naturally gave me crippling FOMO, until I’d been inside for a while and began to relax, realizing that it’s actually pretty great to just roam around and be surprised by what’s around the corner. And after I’d been wandering around for about an hour, I did begin to get a sense of how things were connected, so it wasn’t too hard to backtrack to places I’d been and search out things I’d missed.)
But enough with the words. Ready to take a little tour?
“Forest of Flowers & People”
This video will give you an idea of how gobsmacked I was as I meandered through the first space with my mouth just hanging open…
“Universe of Water Particles on a Rock Where People Gather”
“Memory of Topography”
This artwork changes with the seasons. When I went back in the winter, there was a blizzard, giving way to flocks of birds and a snowmelt river.
Seeing a video of this on a little flat screen is not at all the same as standing in the midst of shapes dipping and diving and whizzing all around you, but this will give you a taste…
Again, it’s hard to imagine from a flat picture what it’s like to be in the middle of sparklies bursting and glowing all around in 3D, but at least you can sort of see the giant, nebulous shapes of the butterflies that flutter through the rooms of “Borderless”
“Grid Spaces: Lines”
Note: The lantern room is on the second floor, and there’s a dedicated escalator that reaches it.
“Forest of Resonating Lamps”
Note: There’s a two-story flight of stairs leading from the ground floor to the “Athletics Forest” play area. It bypasses the second floor and you can’t get to the lantern room from these stairs.
The third floor is basically a giant play area for kids, an undulating landscape robed in projection-mapped creatures. There’s a big trampoline area, several climbing structures, a room where the drawings kids make are brought to life and swim along the walls, and a room filled with giant color-changing balloons.
And here’s the trampoline:
But my favorite thing on this level is the En Tea House. It costs an extra ¥500, and ordinarily I’d be sort of bent out of shape about paying five bucks for a bowl of tea, but in this case, don’t miss it. Order your tea at the reception desk (there’s a choice between various herbal and green teas, hot and cold), pay, then wait for them to usher you into the dark tea room. You’ll be seated at one of the long tables. After your eyes adjust, a clear tea bowl will be set before you, and the tea ceremonially poured in.
And then the good part begins. Wherever the bowl is set, flowers will start blooming on the surface. That’s all that will happen until you pick up the bowl, drink, and set it back down. Once you pick it up…well, see for yourself:
Note: It pays to sip carefully, so you don’t disturb the layer of bubbles on top, because that’s the “screen” that the flowers are projected onto.
More about going to the En Tea House and how to get the best photos here.
TeamLab Borderless address: Odaiba Palette Town, 1-3-8 Aomi, Koto-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Closed: 2nd and 4th Tuesdays (open every other day, including holidays)
Hours: 10:00 – 19:00; Weekends and holidays 10:00 – 21:00; Last admission is one hour before closing
Admission: Adults ¥3,200; Children (4-14) ¥1000 (under 4 are free); Disabled (with one accompanying person, must show certificate) ¥1600
HOW TO GET TICKETS AND GO TO TEAMLAB “BORDERLESS”
1: Buy your ticket in advance
It’s possible to get them at the door, but some days (weekends and holidays in particular) sell out, so you might not get in if you don’t already have a ticket.
- Here’s a link to the TeamLab BORDERLESS website. To switch the website into a language you understand, click on the little globe icon in the upper right corner and choose a language from the drop-down menu. Click on the white TICKETS button right next to it to go to the ticket buying section.
- Choose the day you plan to go. Tickets are only good on the day for which they’re issued. You can go in at any time during that day and stay as long as you like.
- They will email you an electronic scan code (like a mobile boarding pass) so you can use your phone to get in. (It works really well – trust me!)
- If you bought more than one ticket, your group needs to go in together, because there will just be one scan code for them all.
2: Download the app
- Go to the app store on your phone and search for TeamLab. Download the app, so you can use it to control the light shapes in the Crystal Universe.
3: Get there early, get there early, GET THERE EARLY (I can’t say this enough)
- The line for ticket holders stretched around the block by 11:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, just sayin.’ It pays to set your alarm!
4: Allow an open-ended amount of time to explore, or you’ll have REGRETS
- They make a point of telling you before you go in that there are no maps, that some artworks move from room to room, and that some rooms are hard to find. This is all true. It takes time to discover where the must-see things you’ve seen pix of are located, so don’t squeeze yourself into a schedule that makes you leave disappointed.
- Just a data point: I was there for two hours (at an early enough hour that I didn’t have to wait outside any of the rooms to get in), and I could easily have stayed twice as long. I did notice Disneyland-like ropes laid out before some of the rooms, so it’s pretty clear that you could spend some time waiting to see the more popular stuff later in the day.
5: What to see first
- The lantern room only allows you inside for a few minutes, and it had a queue outside earliest, so if you want to minimize your wait for that, go there first. It’s up a one-flight staircase, off one of the long, dark halls that ring the flower rooms, on the left side (if you have your back to the entrance). If you can’t find it, one of the staff members who are standing around can direct you. Ask for the “Forest of Resonating Lamps”
6: Wear the right shoes
Anyone who wants to bounce on the trampoline or visit the room with the color-changing balloons in the “Athletic Forest” needs to be wearing sneakers, so the artwork isn’t damaged. They loan shoes for both kids and adults, but it’s better just to wear your own.
7: Know what’s not allowed
The biggest no-no is that although it’s perfectly fine to take photos and videos, no selfie sticks or tripods are allowed. It’s a good idea to read the guidelines on the website before you go. And turn off your flash. The art is all projected, so you’ll end up with a bunch of photos of white walls if you use your flash (not to mention blinding/annoying other visitors).
The Last Tea Bowl Thief was chosen as an Editor’s Pick for Best Mystery, Thriller & Suspense on Amazon!
“I don’t know when I’ve been more caught up in a story. A masterful achievement.” —Terry Shames, award-winning author of An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock
Writing mystery books set in Tokyo is mostly what I do, but I also blog about the odd stuff I see every day in Japan. I'm a graduate of Stanford University and the Sendagaya Japanese Institute in Tokyo, and a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters In Crime. When I'm not in Tokyo, I live in San Francisco. I also host a travel site called The Tokyo Guide I Wish I'd Had, so if you're headed to Japan and want to check out the places I take my friends when they're in town, take a look!