TeamLab Borderless: Best Digital Museum EVER!

It’s hard to believe, but even the most gorgeous photos you’ve seen online are a pale hint of how great it is to be in this room in real life

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?

FIRST FLOOR

“Forest of Flowers & People”

This place is a truly immersive, digitally animated environment, with art that morphs and changes and flows all around you, thanks to meticulous projection mapping. Flowers bloom and drift on the wind, butterflies generated by people who visit the “Butterflies Beyond Borders” room waft through, and other trippy denizens roam (or swim or fly) in and out of the space…

…and along the corridors, interacting with the resident animations as they encounter them.

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…

There are smaller rooms within the flower forest area, with artworks of their own. This is the “Butterflies Beyond Borders” room, where, if you stand still, butterflies will coe to life on your chest, flutter across the room from your feet and up onto the wall, then out to join the other artworks meandering through the museum

Some of the art that moves through the various rooms – like these schools of fish – change color and direction when you touch them

“Universe of Water Particles on a Rock Where People Gather”

Art roams in and out of the waterfall room, and the falling water “splashes” off your head (if you stand right up with your back to the wall) or flows around you (if you’re standing on the lower formation), as if you were part of the rock yourself

“Memory of Topography”

This was actually my favorite thing, although it doesn’t photograph very well. You meander through a vast landscape of thigh-high lily pads while the seasons flow around you in a glittering river of leaves and dragonflies…

…and birds…

…and flowers

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.

“Cave Universe”

Standing just inside this sculptural “cave,” you get the pleasantly disorienting feeling of floating in space, as animations swirl and whizz around you. In the photo, you can sort of see how the floor angles up to the walls in polygonal sections. This particular animation is called “Crows are Chased and the Chasing Crows are Destined to be Chased as Well,” but when it moves on to other rooms, it’s replaced by equally mindbending animations

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…

“Crystal Universe”

The Crystal Universe that has featured in so many of Teamlab’s other installations has its own space here, and now you can partially control the light effects by picking one of the “nature” icons on the installed tablet (or the app you downloaded to your phone before you came) and swiping it toward the lights

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”

This mirrored room pulsing with lasers and heavy beats is diabolically difficult to take a photo of, but basically you stand in the midst of a laser light show as the beams cascade all around you

SECOND FLOOR

Note: The lantern room is on the second floor, and there’s a dedicated escalator that reaches it.

“Forest of Resonating Lamps”

The lanterns in this mirrored room glow and dim as people draw near, sending signals to nearby lanterns to glow and dim as well

The colors of the lanterns slowly shift in a progression of colors…

…and you don’t know which phase you’ll be in the room with

The color programming also shifts with the seasons, so you might be there to see the blizzards of winter, the gradual brightening of the days toward spring, giving way to green shoots and blossoms

THIRD FLOOR

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.

On the way up the stairs, an ever-changing mural of graffiti flowers entertains you as you climb

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.

“Athletics Forest”

Here’s a view of part of the play area and the room with the balloons. Wherever you are in this hilly landscape, if you stand in one place, flowers and plants will beging to generate and grow beneath your feet. And if you chase the fish and whales, some of them will pause if you step on them.

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.

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

MAP

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!

    This is the line of ticket holders at 12:30 on a Tuesday.

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).

After spending hours being mesmerized by the glow, Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Tokyo

A young woman dressed as a Gothic Lolita is found dead in a car with two strangers. But the more Yumi Hata learns about her friend’s death, the more she’s convinced it was murder…read more