TeamLab Review: Tokyo Top Pick or Tourist Trap?

TeamLab Planets and Borderless are interactive digital art museums in Tokyo Japan that offer galleries of immersive and Instagrammable surreal installations. This review explains what that actually means, shares photos from inside the exhibits and covers whether it’s worth the time, money & effort to visit, plus tips for buying tickets.

teamLab offers a number of temporary exhibitions and permanent galleries around the world, with teamLab Borderless and teamLab Planets in Tokyo being the flagship locations. There’s also a teamLab Borderless Shanghai, and teamLab SuperNature Macao, with more to open in cities around the world. We’ve only done the Tokyo locations; I assume the Shanghai spot is similar based on photos–I’m very curious about the one in Macau, and hope to check it out the next time we visit Hong Kong.

Tokyo teamLab Planets is the second concept from the collective, following in the footsteps of the wildly popular teamLab Borderless. With that said, both are currently operating. Planets is tentatively scheduled to run through (at least) 2027 in Toyosu, Tokyo. Borderless reopened in a new location in Azabudai Hills, Tokyo and has no scheduled end date.

Both venues are absolutely massive and feel like entering another realm…like the Matrix meets Alice in Wonderland meets TRON. With that said, the biggest difference between teamLab Borderless and teamLab Planets is the layout. The collective describes teamLab Borderless as artworks without boundaries, a museum without a map where artworks move out of rooms and intermingles without boundaries. Through this group of works, one continuous world without boundaries is created where you can immerse your body in borderless art. (Their words, not mine.)

By contrast, teamLab Planets comprises 4 large-scale artwork spaces and 2 gardens where you immerse your entire bodies in the vast artworks together with others. The artworks change under the presence of people, blurring the perception of boundaries between the self and the works. Other people also create change in the artworks, blurring the boundaries between themselves and the works, and others. Once again, their words–not mine.

In my view, there are three main differences between the two. The first is that Planets is linear, rather than being borderless or free-flowing. Sure, you can backtrack, but there’s a set path–fewer “opportunities” to get lost or immersed, depending upon your perspective.

Second, Planets is more physical and communal. You’re going to be taking off your shoes (not necessary at Borderless), wading in water, crawling through stuff, and so forth. It’s more demanding or more engaging, depending upon your perspective.

Finally, Planets is older. It opened in 2018 and has been refreshed since, but it’s still largely technology from that time. The original Borderless does predate it, but the installation in Azabudai Hills is brand-new as of 2024. (Full disclosure: we have not yet had the chance to do the circa 2024 Borderless, but assume it feels fresher based on our past experiences.)

It’s difficult to define what, exactly, teamLab is. Much of that will be accomplished in this review via photos, as words truly don’t do it justice. Nevertheless, we’ll attempt to communicate not only what the experience is like, but also whether there’s enough “there there” (so to speak) to justify doing this, or if teamLab is all style and no substance.

For its part, teamLab describes itself as an international art collective existing at the intersection of art, science, technology, and the natural world. The group consists of a variety of artists, programmers, engineers, animators, mathematicians and architects; the collective aims to explore the relationship between the self and the world, through new forms of perception.

In so doing, teamLab seeks to break down or transcend boundaries in our perceptions of the world, of the relationship between the self and the world, and the continuity of time. All of this sounds very high concept, which is unsurprising of artists. We might also be well-served to note that the Willy Wonka Experience in Glasgow used similar lofty language!

Regrettably, I cannot speak to the Willy Wonka Experience. But I do have extensive experience with the Instagrammable museum craze. Also regrettably, as I am not a fan. Museums of arts and sciences are much more my speed than, say, the Museum of Ice Cream.

Spending a lot of time in both Los Angeles and Tokyo, we’ve had our fair share of exposure to both types of offerings–spectacular real museums or art installations, and then “museums” (air quotes) that are really glorified photo ops that offer nothing beyond backdrops that are equally vibrant and vapid.

That was honestly my biggest fear with teamLab Tokyo. Thankfully, that is not an actual issue with the exhibits themselves. The displays are at once thought-provoking and introspective, while also being a sumptuous visual feast. There are prompts within each area of the museum that offer an opportunity for reflection or deeper thought, similar to a traditional museum.

Or you can simply ignore all of that and take pretty photos and videos for Instagram, TikTok, etc.

teamLab is very much open to interpretation; one of those things that allows you to take as much or as little as you want from the experience. If you’re searching for deeper meaning about life and the vastness of time and space or whatever, have at it. If you want an entirely superficial experience, there’s room for that too.

I like a bit of both, and teamLab serves those dual purposes well for me. I would also note that teamLab probably takes itself more seriously than the average visitor does. There’s an air of pretension–absolutely expected, because art–but it’s probably not particularly deep for the average guest.

That brings us to the big issue with both teamLab Borderless and Planets: crowds. I wouldn’t say outright that teamLab is oversold, but based on what many guests want from the experience–picture perfect portraits with empty backgrounds–it can be a bit of a challenge. In particular, the linear areas of Planets can sometimes become backed up as guests create space for themselves to have such shots with empty backgrounds, holding up traffic in the process.

I don’t want to scare you here, as it’s really not that bad and no worse than what you’d find of any popular museum in a metro area. The critical distinction comes down to the photos–no one is trying to get an “empty gallery” shot at the Louvre or even the Tokyo National Museum of Nature and Science (well actually, I did with Hachikō–but that’s the exception!). They are at teamLab.

Fortunately, big crowds are relatively easy to avoid. For less congestion, visit either first thing in the morning or towards the end of the operating day as crowds clear out. Avoid the middle of the day. I’m skeptical that there’s much difference between weekends and weekdays, but err on the side of caution and choose weekdays if it’s convenient to your schedule. All of this will ensure you’re able to get great photos with clean backgrounds.

Strategically, I far prefer the first timed entry slots for a few reasons. The first is because it’s easy to put together an itinerary with teamLab Planet and Toyosu Market (a short walk away), either first thing in the morning or around lunch. Second, because going early allows you to stay as long as you want, whereas late has a hard end time–when teamLab closes. Finally, and this is an underrated one that applies only to Planets: foot odor. The beginning of the day is fresh and fine, whereas later is funky and like the inside of a ski lodge (IYKYK).

I think these are very good recommendations, but hardly earth-shattering insider advice you’ll only find here. If you look at the teamLab website, you’ll notice that the timed entry slots to sell out first are almost always the first ones of the day. In fairness to me and my very savvy advice, this isn’t usually the case with attractions. Tourists on vacation like to sleep in, and beating the crowds is often easy with this one simple tip!

But the kids these days who are big on the Instagram and TikTok and whatnot…they know. It’s almost intuitive or something. In any case, you will want to purchase tickets far in advance if you plan on doing teamLab first thing.

Alternatively, the ultimate zig-when-they-zag or counterintuitive strategy might actually be going at the end of the day. Sure, the whole place will smell like foot fungus (mild hyperbole), but there are probably fewer social media all-star influencers. I’m not actually recommending this, to be clear. I think the opportunity-cost of doing other, better things in Tokyo at sunset in the evening is too high. Which is precisely why it’s the least popular time of day to go.

We recommend buying via Klook: buy teamLab Borderless Azabudai Hills tickets here or teamLab Planets Tokyo in Toyosu tickets here.

These are discounted (usually by a very slight amount), and you can also do bundle packages or use coupons (when offered) to save more. However, the biggest advantage that Klook offers is that you can book earlier–3 months in advance versus only 2 months on the official site. (Why a third party has a better booking window than the official site is beyond me!) If you’re spontaneous and daring, you can also buy teamLab tickets from the kiosks at the museum itself.

As for how much time to budget to teamLab, truly as much or little as you want. Very helpful, right? I’d say the average is probably 90 minutes to 2 hours, with a range of 1 to 4 hours. Due to its larger size, you’ll probably spend more time at Borderless than Planets, but that’s not a sure thing–it all depends upon which exhibits “click” with you at each.

I would say our average is about 2.5 hours. This allows time for spontaneous and carefree looking photos that are actually carefully choreographed and time-consuming (just being honest) and also sitting back and drinking in the artwork and environments. For us, that’s a very satisfying visit, and one that feels neither rushed nor overly long. If you have kids, you might find yourself racing through in an hour or less. Unless they become entranced by the mirrors, orbs, lights, or alien eggs–in which case, the sky’s the limit. (I would’ve been in heaven as a child at teamLab!)

As for which you should attend, I hope the description of the differences above helped make that decision for you. I think it’s largely personal, with different parties–and even people within parties–preferring different things. The consensus is probably that the bigger Borderless is better; it’s also newer and more approachable.

Personally, I love the more tactile and communal Planets. Even though it’s linear and has the aforementioned foot fungus issues, it’s also more actively engaging. We found ourselves laughing out loud while doing some of the more physically rigorous segments, and those alone were worth the price of admission. There are moments in Planets that make you feel like a kid again, inviting you to play and have fun.

This is not to say that teamLab Borderless is lacking. It’s not. That museum arguably features more awe and majesty, and is likely the superior option for those wanting a more passively interactive experience. I should also point out that we haven’t done the teamLab Borderless 2024 version, and it could be a big departure from the prior concept. (Based on the descriptions, it looks more iterative–but I’m looking forward to checking it out soon!)

If you’re still having trouble deciding between the two, do whichever slots into your Tokyo itinerary easier. Borderless in Azabudai Hills is more centrally-located, between Tokyo Tower and Roppongi. Planets is a bit more out of the way, but in an up-and-coming area that a lot of people will be visiting anyway for Toyosu Market and Toyosu Senkyaku Banrai. It’s also a stone’s throw from Odaiba and a bunch of other museums and tourist attractions.

For whatever it’s worth, I’ve purposefully avoided scene by scene breakdowns since I think going in blind, to some extent, makes the experience better. Obviously, you’re going to see photos and know the basic contours. That’s not the same as knowing how the museum unfolds in full prior to setting foot inside. Your mileage may vary on spoilers–if you want them, they’re not hard to find: the official teamLab site has scene-by-scene breakdowns.

Ultimately, both teamLab Planet and Borderless are Tokyo must-dos that are well worth your time and money. These interactive digital art museums truly are meaty and immersive, and will actively engage you if you let them. We’re anxiously awaiting our next visits to both, and can’t wait to take our daughter to the museums to see her reactions to the colors, lights and shapes.

Critics will deride teamLab as gimmicky, crowded and touristy. There is arguably a kernel of truth to all of these claims, but we think they’re overblown. The crowds are no worse than any high profile museum; they just more noticeable given the circumstances. The touristy part is definitely true, but that’s the nature of the beast–this is a destination museum that people from all over the world flock to. Just like Parisians aren’t who sustains the Louvre, neither are Tokyoites here (teamLab is also very popular with domestic tourists in Japan). If anything, crowds and it being a tourist both draw speak to teamLab’s popularity…and it’s popular for good reason.

Finally, I would say the ‘gimmick’ at teamLabs is that it’s unique and unrivaled, and that distinction is another asset that makes it a must-do. Sure, it won’t be for everyone, but I think the vast majority of people who know what they’re getting themselves into (and think it sounds fun) will love teamLab Planets or Borderless. We’ve done over two-dozen museums and art galleries in Tokyo, and this is one of the very few that’s a world-class offering that’s novel and worth your time and money. teamLab is much more fun and memorable than anything in Ueno Park, and that’s precisely because it’s so different, exceptional and entrancing.

If you’re planning a trip to Japan, we start by consulting our Ultimate Guide to Kyoto and Ultimate Tokyo City Guide to plan all aspects of your visit to Japan’s top two cities. You should also check out our other posts about Japan for ideas on other places to visit! 

Your Thoughts

Have you visited teamLab Planets or Borderless? Did you think the experience was worth the time, money, and effort? Was there enough substance to the interactive digital art museum for you, or was it too superficial? If you’ve done both Borderless and Planets, which did you prefer? Any thoughts or tips of your own to add? Share any other questions or thoughts you have in the comments!

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7 replies
  1. Ronald
    Ronald says:

    Team Labs is anything but a tourist trap. This should be on eveyones list of must do in Tokyo. I can’t speak on Planets, but Borderless is money well spent.
    The definition of tourist trap is Shibuya Sky. The absolute most overrated, underwhelming waste of time you will ever have in Tokyo.

    Reply
  2. Janine
    Janine says:

    Did Borderless last month. Was really cool – though if you’re with anyone that doesn’t have very good night vision you’ll have to help them out (brought my 81 yo mom – she was totally game but needed to hold my hand in the darker bits.) Only complaint was all the influencers just there to get the photo but don’t let that put you off. Just enjoy the experience – and don’t rush! Things change and surprises happen that are worth seeing.

    Reply
  3. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    We spent ~90 minutes at Teamlab Planets last year and quite enjoyed it. My non-museum-loving teenager described it as “her type of museum”. We also visited the Odaiba Marine park and saw the Statue of Liberty while in the area.

    Reply
  4. JohnB
    JohnB says:

    We did Planets in March 2019. In 2023, we viewed teamLab in Osaka Botanical Gardens. I did not think either were tourist traps. While all the teamLab exhibits are similar, there are differences in concept.

    teamLab is a don’t miss attraction for Tokyo. It amazes all ages and nationalities.

    We also went to Planets at 7pm. We did not get the funky smells as described. The odors must be from foreigners because most Japanese lack the glands that produce odorous sweat.

    Reply
  5. Matahana
    Matahana says:

    I found the foot odor to be a real put-off when visiting Planets, but agree that it does invite funny moments and childlike experiences! When I next make it back to Tokyo, I’d love to visit Borderless. Thanks for the breakdown.

    Reply
  6. Marisol
    Marisol says:

    My girls and I visited teamLab Borderless and we LOVED it! We had such a wonderful time together exploring the different rooms and taking so many pictures!

    Reply
  7. David K
    David K says:

    I really enjoyed Planet. I typically don’t care for social media “museums” but it was worth making an exception for the best of them.

    Reply

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