Exploring the Mori Building Digital Art Museum: Epson teamLab Borderless
Mori Building Digital Art Museum: Epson teamLab Borderless in Odaiba’s Palette Town is the first permanent digital museum in the world, and is easily becoming a must-see for tourists and locals alike. The brainchild of teamLab, a visionary art collective made up of artists, engineers, CG animators and more, the wildly Instragrammable digital wonderland lives up to its 'borderless' name.
Without a map or set route, and a lack of signage, visitors are encouraged to explore the museum at their own leisure, wandering in and out of exhibits to discover new and exciting things, which test each and every sense. The museum is highly interactive and ever evolving, as your presence imprints on the digital space around you.
The museum is separated into five spaces covering two floors: Borderless World, Athletics Forest, Future Park, Forest of Lamps, and En Tea House. Here are just some of the highlights.
In ‘Borderless World’, the biggest of the five spaces, visitors are immersed in a fluid universe created by artworks, which weave in and out of each other, and meld together, influencing one another, and reacting in real time to the people who explore it.
Forest of Flowers and People: Lost, Immersed and Reborn
The Forest of Flowers and People, provides an eye-popping display of colour as flowers blossom before your very eyes. Everything in the room is covered in vibrant flowers–the walls, the floors, and the mirrors that reflect them–creating an infinite flower universe. The installation explores the peaceful co-existence of humans and nature. Flowers dance across your face and clothes making you part of the display, and the surroundings react to visitors’ movements. If you touch flowers or butterflies they will wither away, but if you stand still they will grow and form. The circle of life is virtually played out in this room.
Universe of Water Particles on a Rock where People Gather
In this installation, streaks of light mimicking water flow down the walls to fall onto physical raised structures imitating rocks. This creates the look of a waterfall, which is made even more beautiful by the interaction of the people who stand under it, refracting the light in different directions as if changing the movement of the water.
In this installation, LED Lights are lit up and reflected in mirrors creating a seemingly endless landscape of beautiful floating crystals. Several points of light are used to create a three-dimensional space, like the dots of colour on a pointillist painting. The maze like structure and visual illusion creates a scene where silhouetted figures seem to blend with the artwork, and create a sense of harmony. Sometimes sombre and other times uplifting piano music is played, adding to the sensory experience of the installation. Furthermore, the installation is highly interactive, as visitors can actually control the light patterns through a smartphone app downloaded at the venue.
The Floating Nest
One of the most popular exhibits besides the Forest of Resonating Lamps is The Floating Nest, so expect a wait to get in. Here, visitors are completely immersed in the artworks, as they lie on their backs on a large circular net suspended in the centre of the space and gaze up. Crows leave trails of golden light in their paths as they fly across the black void, as pulsating Japanese instrumental music plays.
Memory of Topography
In the Memory of Topography, the seasons come to life as you wade through white circular canvases attached to springy bases. These canvases, which look like Lilly pads, spring back and forth as you walk through narrow paths. You’ll feel the power of nature and the transient beauty of the seasons as golden rice fields, autumn leaves, and red dragonflies scatter across the canvases, as the direction of the wind changes with the movement of the people.
Light Sculpture–Line & Fog Series
In this dark room the ability to create three-dimensional space with light is explored, as light grids, caves, hazes, and vortexes are created. At some points the light beams come to together to look like some kind of spiritual vision. For some, this room may be a bit of a sensory overload with bright lights and loud pulsating piano music, so staying for a couple of minutes is completely fine. If you’re lucky you might see some coloured lights mix together, a blue light section where people are highlighted in red, or be able to make light disappear by touching points where lines meet.
Peace Can Be Realized Even Without Order
This installation draws inspiration from the ancient Japanese dance festival Awa Odori, where separate dancers and musicians blend together organically as they parade around the town. The ghostly outlines of figures appear on glass panels creating a seemingly infinite transparent world. These figures play instruments and dance individually, and create a harmony with the figures near to them. Interestingly, the figures also sense when a person is near at which point they stop playing music. You might find yourself jump a bit at the unexpectedness of them turning to face you and call something out. Like Awa Odori there is a sense of harmony despite the lack of order in the movements of the figures.
Animals of Flowers, Symbiotic
In the ‘Borderless World’ animals such as kangaroos, giraffes, and birds made out of the flowers from the Flower Forest roam the hallways. Flowers grow from the bodies of the animals, bloom, and after the petals shed, they dissolve away. The cycle of life and death is constantly played out.
The Athletics Forest
The Athletics Forest, a digitally enhanced playground, is the most interactive part of the museum. Manoeuvre your way through a path of connected boards, try your hand at rock-climbing up a digitally lit up coloured coded path, or jump on a trampoline where stars form. The space is built on the concept of experiencing the world through the body, and exercising spatial awareness.
Weightless Forest of Resonating Life
One of my personal favourite areas of the museum was a section filled entirely with giant light filled balloons, which stood upright on the ground, or floated to the ceiling. Weaving between the bouncy balloons, and walking on the springy floor was a lot of fun. Just be careful you don't get hit in the face from a rogue balloon. The use of mirrors reflecting the balloons made this room seem infinitely endless adding to the sense of wonder. When visitors touched the balloons, their colours changed and a shade similar to that colour spread to all nearby balloons in sequence.
Light Forest Three-Dimensional Bouldering
In this rock-climbing activity grips, which looks like gems, are lit up, as climbers use their hands and legs to move up the poles. If climbers follow a path of the same colour the surrounding gems react and change colour to a similar shade. It was really fun to follow a colour-coded bouldering course as wider areas of gems started to respond.
Aerial Climbing through a Flock of Colored Birds
In this installation, visitors have to navigate a series of connected boards suspended by ropes. As the boards are all connected and paths intersect, it was a fun challenge to attempt to keep my balance and find a clear path while adapting to the movements of others. On the walls behind, flocks of birds fly freely through the space avoiding the people.
Multi Jumping Universe
In this interactive installation, which maps the lifecycle of stars, visitors jump on a bouncy trampoline like surface, as stars grow and form at their feet. These stars expand before becoming black holes that swallow their surroundings, or dying and turning into nebulas, which brings to life new stars.
Future Park aims to educate and create a space based on ‘collaborative creativity, and co-creation.’ Let your inner child and imagination run wild as you slide down a fruit field, bring your own marine animal to life in a virtual aquarium, and play with some mischievous gnome-like creatures.
Sliding Through the Fruit Field
In this installation, visitors are urged to let go of their inhibitions as they go down a slide covered in fruit. The visitor acts as sunlight as they fall down the slope touching the blue balls, which represent water and the yellow balls, which represent honeybees. The energy caused by our bodies sliding down causes the balls to collide with the fruit, causing them to energetically burst into life.
If you have a creative streak and have always wanted one of your drawings to come to life, look no further than the Sketch Aquarium. Here, you can draw your very own marine animal, which is scanned and animated on the wall, to swim in a giant virtual aquarium alongside other sea creatures. Let your imagination roam free and use some of the ready-made templates for inspiration. You can even use a virtual food bag to feed the fish.
A Table Where Little People Live
In this adorable installation, little garden gnome looking creatures move around on a colourful table. Various plates, cups and pans can be moved and placed on the table, which causes interesting patterns and shapes to emerge. Watching the little creatures scurry around interacting with the different elements by jumping, climbing, and sliding on them is really heart-warming.
En Tea House
The En Tea Room offers a great chance to relax, have a refreshing drink, and trip out as you stare into your own personal virtual world in a teacup. The menu consists of four items each priced at 500 yen: Iced Cold Brew Green Tea, Green Tea with Yuzu, Hot Green Tea, and Hot Roasted Green Tea with Camomile Latte. The tearoom is dimly lit, and tranquil, filled with the quiet wonder of zenned out tea drinkers. As soon as the server pours the frothy tea into your wide cup, prepare to be amazed as a leaf blooms into a vibrant flower, sprouting delicate petals. As you pick up your cup to take a sip, petals scatter and radiate from your cup onto the surrounding table creating a mesmerizing spectacle. Flowers keep blooming as long as there is tea in the cup. Refills are available for 200 yen.
Forest of Resonating Lamps
The Forest of Resonating Lamps is the most popular exhibit at the museum, and with good reason. It is a visually breathtaking exhibit, with a mirrored room filled with hanging LED lamps made of Venetian glass, which change colour in sequence. If a person stands still near a lamp, it lights up and starts spreading a colour to the surrounding lamps in a chain before returning back to the original. As you get further into the line you'll be able to get a nice view of the whole exhibit through the glass and see the colours inspired by the elements of fire and ice and the seasons. Only about 20 people are allowed into the space at a time so as soon as you get inside start taking your selfies and group shots, as you'll only have about a minute or two before you're shepherded out by the staff.
Tips on Visiting
- Makes sure you book online ahead of time. It is not uncommon for tickets to be sold out weeks before, so plan ahead.
- Be prepared to wait in line. The museum can get really crowded particularly on weekends so don't be surprised if you have to wait in line even to get inside. Even on weekdays it's not uncommon to have to wait for 30 minutes or more to get into the more popular exhibitions, such as the Forest of Resonating Lamps and the Floating Nest.
- Wear flat shoes. Some of the exhibits have soft floors where high heels are prohibited, so try to wear flat shoes if possible. If you are wearing heels you have the option to rent out free shoes.
- Avoid skirts/dresses. This is a bit of an awkward one. To keep with the borderless theme there is heavy use of mirrors and reflective floors, so be wary of this. There is black wrap clothing available to avoid any embarrassment.
- Try to eat before you visit. This museum is best enjoyed over a course of several leisurely hours and there's no food at the venue so eating before is recommended. Don't let a grumbling stomach get it the way of your sensory experience.
- Be mindful of your bags. Since a lot of the exhibitions are in quite confined spaces and are delicate, you are likely to be asked to keep any backpacks in front of you. Free lockers are available for bigger items.
- Don't be afraid to ask. Though half of the fun of this museum is being able to explore things yourself, sometimes it may be difficult to find a room you're looking for, or even the exit, so don't fall through the rabbit hole, ask someone for help. The staff seems to know some English so communicating isn't generally a problem.
- Leave the tripods at home. Taking pictures is encouraged but selfie sticks, tripods, and flash photography is not permitted.
As one of Tokyo's hottest tickets, the Mori Building Digital Art Museum: Epson teamLab Borderless is definitely a must-see on your next visit to Tokyo. Take your time and enjoy getting lost in this beautifully layered digital world, as you try to find rooms, camouflaged in their surrounds, and wander into spaces with new and exciting things to uncover. Just make sure to keep your smartphone and camera powered up so you can take enough pictures to make yourself the Instagram envy of your friends.
Getting There & Prices
Mori Building Digital Art Museum: Epson teamLab Borderless is situated in the Palette Town Complex, a short walk from Tokyo Teleport Station in Odaiba. Tickets cost 3,200 yen for adults and 1,000 yen for ages 4–14. Booking tickets online in advance is highly recommended. The museum is closed on Tuesdays.