Museum & factory tours: the most underrated activity in every travel itinerary
As a popular tourist destination, Japan has plenty to offer to tourists of varying interests. Its natural scenery soothes the soul of nature lovers while its fascinating food scenes satisfy the belly of foodies. However, my favourite activity is visiting museums and factories for their in-house tours (工場見学 kōjō kengaku) that are organised by some of Japan’s most renowned companies. Factory tours are not only cheap—some are even free!—they are fun and educational for all participants. Once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, do check out some of these museum and factory tours on your next trip to Japan!
1. The classic of all factory tours: Toyota Kaikan Museum
Futuristic cars of Toyota. (Image credit: Endure Goh)
Located in Aichi Prefecture’s (愛知県 Aichi-ken), Toyota City (豊田市 Toyota-shi), the Toyota Kaikan Museum (トヨタ会館) may not be the most accessible by public transport (if an entire city is named after the automobile company, you will understand why), but offers an informative and engaging factory tour. Targeting international visitors, the factory tours are also conducted in English with information brochures available in other major languages. Automobile fans will be fascinated by the opportunity to witness the entire manufacturing process on the guided tour.
The main appeal of the factory tour at Toyota Kaikan Museum is the chance to learn and witness Toyota’s famous JIT (Just-In-Time) system in action. Toyota Motor Corporation invented the JIT system in the 1970s to reduce inventory storage, resulting in manufacturing efficiency and cost savings. The JIT system has since been adopted worldwide by most companies across industries. Visitors will have the opportunity to witness how automation and robots have improved the JIT system.
Apart from the factory tour, Toyota Kaikan Museum also offers an array of exhibitions and activities. Car enthusiasts can check out the latest car models on display in the museum. The exhibition area has five distinct themes which offer information about the company, and games and activities to entertain guests. There are also souvenir stalls which sell limited edition goods to mark your trip at the museum.
Toyota Kaikan Museum (トヨタ会館)
Address: 1 Toyota-cho, Toyota-shi, Aichi 471-8571
Nearest station: Mikawa-Toyota Station (三河豊田駅), Tsuchihashi Station (土橋駅), Toyotashi Station (豊中市駅)
Opening hours: 9:30am–5pm (Factory tour is currently suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic)
Admission fee: Free for museum entry and factory tour (Reservation required for factory tour)
Tel: +81 565-29-3345
2. Japan’s representative beer: Asahi Brewery Tour
Brewing in progress. (Image credit: Endure Goh)
You have seen Asahi’s beers on the shelves of our local supermarkets, and you have probably drunk it at Japanese restaurants and izakaya bars in Singapore. Asahi is one of Japan’s major beer producers and its famous Asahi Super Dry Beer continues to enjoy popularity across the globe. There are several Asahi breweries across Japan which also organise brewery tours but the place that I frequent is the Suita Brewery (アサヒビール吹田工場 Asahi Bīru Suita Kōjō) located in Osaka Prefecture (大阪府 Ōsaka-fu).
The tour is conducted only in Japanese but the reception provides information brochures in English and Chinese. Like most factory tours, visitors will have a chance to learn about the history of the company and the production process in the brewery. You will learn about the main ingredients of Asahi’s beers and the biochemical processes that created the world’s first super-dry beer! The guides are friendly and actively engage with the visitors through Q&As—pay attention if you do not want to embarrass yourself!
Cheers! Don’t forget what you learnt about beer! (Image credit: Endure Goh)
However, the main appeal of the brewery tour is the tasting session at the end. Every visitor is entitled to savour three glasses of beer (half-pint) from a good selection of Asahi beers. If you are lucky, you can also receive a can of limited-edition beer during the seasonal promotion! Rest assured that while the adults get merry on their free beers, minors below the age of 20 are also entitled to three glasses of non-alcoholic beverages produced by Asahi (Calpis, anyone?). A guided tour by friendly staff and the chance to savour three glasses of beer for FREE? Well, now you know why I frequent this place whenever I am in Osaka.
Asahi Breweries Suita Brewery (アサヒビール吹田工場)
Address: 1-45 Nishinosho-cho, Suita, Osaka 564-0071
Nearest station: JR Suita Station (JR吹田駅)
Opening hours: 9:30am–3:00pm (Brewery tour is currently suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic)
Admission fee: Free (Reservation required)
3. Satisfy your sweet tooth: Mister Donut Museum
Mister Donut Kitchen Workshop. (Image credit: Endure Goh)
Mister Donut is an iconic donut franchise chain in Japan which enjoys immense popularity among foreign tourists for its fancy and mouth-watering donuts. The Mister Donut Museum is found at the Duskin Museum (ダスキンミュージアム) in Suita City (吹田市 Suita-shi), Osaka. Although the museum offers some exhibitions that provide insights into the history of the brand from America to its major business development in Japan, the main attraction is the Mister Donut Kitchen Workshop.
In this workshop, participants get to make their own Mister Donut from scratch! From the kneading of the dough to the decoration, everything will be done by the participants except for the deep-frying. If you happen to visit during the shift of the mysterious dancing staff, you can enjoy a fancy dance by this mysterious staff while he fries your handmade donuts!
Unleash your inner pâtissier. (Image credit: Endure Goh)
Although the workshop is conducted only in Japanese, my family was able to participate and complete the workshop with little knowledge of the language. The video demonstrations provided clear instructions and the staff were patient in their assistance despite the language barrier. For a fee of ¥600 per participant, each participant will receive three handmade donuts, limited-edition aprons and caps, and discount coupons for Mister Donut. However, be warned that the workshop is extremely popular that reservations are snapped up the moment slots are available two months in advance.
Mister Donut Museum (Duskin Museum) (ミスドミュージアム・ダスキンミュージアム)
Address: 5-32 Yoshinocho, Suita, Osaka 564-0054
Nearest station: Esaka Station (江坂駅)
Opening hours: 10am–4pm (Workshop is currently suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic)
Admission fee: Free for entry, ¥600 for Mister Donut Kitchen Workshop (Reservation required)
Tel: +81 6-6821-5000
4. Indulge in an all-time favourite: CUPNOODLES MUSEUM
(Image credit: Endure Goh)
If you are interested to learn about the origins of our beloved cup and instant noodles, take a trip down to the CUPNOODLES MUSEUM (カップヌードルミュージアム) in either Yokohama (横浜市 Yokohama-shi) in Kanagawa Prefecture (神奈川県 Kanagawa-ken) or Ikeda (池田市 Ikeda-shi) in Osaka. I have been to both branches of the museum and I highly recommend the branch in Yokohama as it offers more facilities and activities. However, for those who wish to escape the crowd and enjoy your experience leisurely, the branch in Osaka Ikeda is the better choice.
Your very own Cup Noodle! (Image credit: Endure Goh)
The CUPNOODLES MUSEUM at Yokohama features an extensive exhibition regarding the history and invention of the first instant noodle by its creator Ando Momofuku (安藤 百福), and its present development. There are two main attractions at the Museum. The first attraction is the “My CUPNOODLES Factory” where for the price of ¥400, you can create a customised cup noodle. Showcase your artistic talent through your design of the cup and pick three of your favourite toppings that will go into your very own cup noodle!
The second attraction is the “Chicken Ramen Factory” where participants have the chance to make their own instant Chicken Ramen from scratch which involves kneading the dough before stretching it into strands of noodles. You will then season your noodles before sending it for deep frying. The workshop concludes with some creative endeavours for the packaging before your handmade noodles are vacuum-packed for your taking. Be warned again that reservation for this popular workshop is also a competition.
Any adventurous foodies here? Try some instant ramen-flavoured soft serve! (Image credit: Endure Goh)
If the fragrance of cup noodles triggers your hunger pangs, visit the NOODLES BAZAAR and indulge in various noodle dishes from around the globe. You may also find interesting food items such as cup noodles-flavoured soft serve ice cream and engage in a heated debate with your companions on whether Laksa is a Malaysian or Singaporean noodle dish.
CUPNOODLES MUSEUM YOKOHAMA (カップヌードルミュージアム 横浜)
Address: 2-3-4 Shinko, Naka-ku, Yokohama 231-0001, Japan
Nearest Station: Minatomirai Station (みなとみらい駅), Bashamichi Station (馬車道駅), JR/Shieichikatetsu Sakuragicho Station (JR・市営地下鉄 桜木町駅)
Opening Hours: 10:00am to 6:00pm (Workshop is currently suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic)
Admission fee (Entry): ¥400 (Adults), Free (High school students and younger)Admission fee (My CUPNOODLES Factory): ¥400
Admission fee (Chicken Ramen Factory): ¥800 (Middle school students and older) ¥500 for (Elementary school students and younger) (Reservation required)
Tel: +81 45-354-0918
The appeal of museum & factory tours
Museum and factory tours offer some of the best engaging activities in Japan for minimal costs. It is the ideal attraction for travellers travelling on a budget who do not wish to compromise on fun and for families who want to engage in activities that provide both educational value and fun for both kids and adults. Besides, being fully indoors, adding a museum or factory tour to your travel list may serve you well as a wet-weather plan. Consider including the museums and factory tours above to your itinerary in your next trip to Japan!
Header image credit: U.S. Army Garrison Japan / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Writer’s profile: As a Japanese Studies graduate, Endure Goh mainly visits Japan for research and work purposes. When he does travel, you will find him in local museums and factories or hunting for the many cute yurukyara that Japan has to offer.