During our summer trip to Japan, we encountered record heat and humidity that made going outside nearly unbearable. Wanting to escape this oppressively hot weather, we purchased the Tokyo Museum Grutto Pass and focused our energy on museums. In this post, we’ll share thoughts on the Grutto Pass, whether it’s worth the money, and to whom we’d recommend this (potentially) money-saving pass.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, we should start with what, exactly, the Tokyo Museum Grutto Pass offers. Basically, it’s a ticket booklet that provides “free” admission tickets as well as discount coupons for 92 museums and other attractions in the Tokyo area. These one-time-use tickets and coupons are each location that are valid for 2 months from the date of first use.
The Grutto Pass costs ¥2,200 and is available from now until January 31, 2019, with its date of final validity being March 31, 2019. Using the Tokyo Museum Grutto Pass is relatively simple, but if you need a more in-depth explanation for some reason, consult the “How To Use” post guide on the official site of the pass.
While the Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture touts there being 92 locations where the Grutto Museum Pass is accepted, this is deceptive. Only about half of these locations (perhaps slightly less than that) are free, with the remainder being discounted.
The discounts at the locations that aren’t free are relatively modest. Although we didn’t comb through the entire book, most are 100 yen off, which amounts to a $1 discount. With exact discount information not being available anywhere online (at least in English), this was a bit disappointing. We still got a ton of value out of the Tokyo Museum Grutto Pass, and think it’s a great option for many visitors to Tokyo.
Visitors to Japan who are most likely to get a lot of value out of the Grutto Pass are those traveling during the summer when heat and humidity are bad. Those who have been to Tokyo before, and already explored the popular neighborhoods and done the whole ‘shopping districts’ thing are also more likely to get value out of the Grutto Pass.
However, it’s not for everyone. If you’re planning a first visit to Japan and are only spending a few days in Tokyo, there’s a strong chance you won’t be focusing on museums. Or, maybe you’re a return visitor but are coming during fall colors season or intend upon visiting museums that aren’t included with the Grutto Pass.
Another possibility is that you’re a Japan first-timer, but intend upon having a day in Ueno Park being your “museum time” for Tokyo. Not a bad idea since that area is dense with museums, but unfortunately, most of the Ueno Park museums are only discounted (and not free) with the Grutto Pass.
Instead, opt for the “Ueno Welcome Passport” which provides admission to all of the Ueno Park venues. Although I think the lineup of the Grutto Pass is far superior, it’s also decentralized. If you’re short on time or don’t want to criss-cross the city via public transportation, the Ueno Welcome Passport might be a better option.
With that said, you don’t need to be visiting during the summer or a Tokyo regular for the Grutto Pass to be worthwhile. Given that the pass is only around $20, you’ll only have to visit 3-4 venues in order to justify the pass.
With that said, here are our top (totally free) recommendations with the Tokyo Museum Grutto Pass:
- Edo-Tokyo Museum
- Ueno Zoo
- Sumida Hokusai Museum
- Tokyo Sea Life Park
- National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
- Hamarikyu Gardens
- Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
- National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan)
We went to several other smaller-scale and niche-interest museums, and would recommend doing the same. The above are listed because they represent some of the top things to do in Tokyo, have broad appeal, and the list is relatively diverse. Save for the Ueno Zoo, we’d give all of the above attractions very positive reviews and would highly recommend each spot.
Of the museums on that list, the one we’d emphatically recommend is the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Surprisingly, we had never done this museum before, despite it being one of the top-rated spots in Tokyo. This is because it’s been under refurbishment during our last couple of trips, and just recently reopened.
Excuses aside, our experience was phenomenal, and the Edo-Tokyo Museum is a great crash-course in the history of Tokyo, evolution of the city and its culture, and samples of the city’s architecture through the ages. The museum is dense with information, but the presentation is varied and accessible, which keeps things engaging.
We spent close to 3 hours in the Edo-Tokyo Museum, and only moved on because we had other stops on the agenda. We could’ve easily spent another 3 there. I’ll do a full review at some point in the future, but suffice to say, irrespective of whether you get the Grutto Pass, you should visit the Edo-Tokyo Museum. It’s a definite must-do.
With the Edo-Tokyo Museum being only a 5-minute walk from the Sumida Hokusai Museum, you’re already at two must-visit museums that can easily be slotted into a normal itinerary. The total cost of those two museums out of pocket would be ¥1,000, so you basically just need to find two other museums of the remaining 90 that you want to visit in order to justify the pass.
That shouldn’t be too difficult, and even people who are not planning museum-heavy trips to Tokyo might want to buy the pass as an insurance policy. Just think, if it rains or you otherwise need to call an audible during your trip, you don’t have to visit many of the locations included in the Grutto Pass for it to pay for itself.
Note that you can purchase the Grutto Pass from any of the 92 locations that accept it, but you might want to strategically choose your first stop if you want to pay for it with credit card. (Only the major museums accept credit cards, and even that’s not consistent.)
Additionally, even though the pass is officially known as the Grutto Pass, almost everyone in Japan seems to refer to it as the Grutt Pass (pronounced like the tree from Guardians of the Galaxy). We mention this because there was a lot of confusion when we tried to buy ours, and it took us pulling out the flier and showing it to the museum staffer before he realized that we wanted the Grutt Pass.
Ultimately, the Tokyo Museum Grutto Pass worked out really well for us. Normally, our “strategy” for Tokyo is just wandering around, exploring neighborhoods, eating, and stumbling upon whatever we happen to stumble upon. After a couple days in Tokyo with miserable heat, and decided to call an audible and primarily do museums.
We only had around four days to use the Tokyo Museum Grutto Pass, but given the cost versus individual tickets, we knew we could easily break even. This was definitely accurate, as we did over a dozen museums during that span. I didn’t tally up the total cost of these museums, but I’m guessing it was triple or quadruple the Grutto Pass cost.
Even though the Tokyo Museum Grutto Pass is decentralized, it is organized by area (as you can see on the official site) and many of the museums are within walking distance of one another.
Each day of our trip, we chose two areas and did the museums in those locations. This minimized our commuting costs, and worked out pretty well. (We skipped the locations in the suburbs entirely.)
While I don’t recommend such a museum-heavy trip to Japan first-timers, we’ve been to Tokyo more times than I can recall, and it was a nice change of pace for us. In addition to the museums recommended above, we visited some of the “deeper cut” museums, which was a mixed bag. A few were dated and totally in Japanese, while others were surprisingly fascinating.
This is part of why I did a Summer 2018 Kyoto, Japan Trip Recap and not one for Tokyo. Our time in Tokyo was primarily these museums and other Grutto Pass attractions, all of which I’ll review individually. When we weren’t doing these points of interest, we were eating ramen, and we already have a post in draft form covering our favorite ramen spots in Tokyo, so that pretty much covers our entire stay in Tokyo this trip!
For all of your planning needs–from places to stay to things to do and much more–please consult our Ultimate Tokyo, Japan City Guide. If you’re planning a visit to other cities, please check out my other posts about Japan.
Have you used the Grutto Pass or any other similar passports for Japan? Which museums have you visited in Tokyo? Any that you’d recommend to first-timers? Any additional tips or thoughts from your visit to add? If you haven’t been to Tokyo, which of these museums and other attractions interest you? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!