teamLab Planets: Immerse Yourself in Digital Art

After the international success of teamLab Borderless, it didn’t take long for the teamLab group to create a follow-up exhibition, teamLab Planets. At first, I was worried that Planets would be more of the same—an overflow venue to bleed off some of the perpetual crowds of the Borderless exhibition.

However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Planets is a unique experience, despite some technological and thematic overlap with its predecessor. Read on to find out just what makes Planets so special.

The Experience

Just like Borderless, Planets fuses nature themes with projection mapping technology to create an experience that topples the barriers between humans, technology, and art. The exhibition includes four expansive spaces that contain seven interactive and immersive works of art.  That being said, two out of the seven art exhibits mirror what you’ll find at Borderless.

However, unlike the meandering maze-like experience of Borderless, Planets is a linear affair with a direct path through all of the exhibits. This is likely a practical decision due to the fact that visitors must proceed through the entire exhibition barefoot, going in and out of water-filled rooms.

That’s right, you’ll take your shoes and socks off before you enter the massive facility and deposit them in a free locker for the duration of the experience. You’ll be wading in and out of water at various points of your journey into a dark world punctuated by dancing lights and ambient soundscapes. Let’s take a closer look at a couple of exhibits that will define your experience.

Soft Black Hole

As soon as you exit the locker room, you’ll literally get your feet wet as you work your way up a steep incline to reach an illuminated waterfall at the end of a dark hallway. You’ll then have a chance to dry your feet before entering the Soft Black Hole exhibit.

A waterfall of light at the end of the tunnel.

If you ever wondered what it would be like to convert a room into one giant beanbag, then you might have an idea of what the Soft Black Hole exhibit is like. Here, you’ll have to step lightly or crawl across the undulating floor to make your way to the opposite side of the room. The allure of rolling around on the form-fitting floor proves too great for most visitors. As the people around you move, the shape of the room dynamically changes, making traversal a challenge. This exhibit is all about highlighting how humans impact the environment and subsequently each other, and it gets this message across loud and clear.

Drawing on the Water Surface

Drawing on the Water Surface is the signature event of Planets. Here, you’ll wade knee deep into a pool of warm, milky water. After your eyes adjust to the darkness, you’ll notice colorful fish and flowers swirling around your legs. They look real enough to touch, but they are actually exquisitely designed projections. If you drop your suspension of disbelief for a moment, you too may pause in awe of the fact that you are standing in a pool of water in a dark warehouse in the middle of Tokyo, surrounded by strangers from all over the world.

More to see and feel

One of the dark hallways that leads visitors from one exhibit to the next.

As noted above, there are several more experiences to be had at Planets. Check out the official website to learn more and select your must-see exhibits. It’s a good idea to plan ahead—it’s possible to walk right past doorways that lead to the smaller exhibits as you fumble through the darkness.

Making the most of your vist

Just like Borderless, Planets is professionally operated and all important information is available in English. That being said, there are a few things you should keep in mind to make the most of your experience and avoid potential headaches.

  • – Order your tickets in advance. Due to the linear experience of Planets, participants are admitted in groups and tickets are assigned time slots for entry. Although you can purchase your ticket onsite, you might not be able to enter the venue until hours after you arrive. Therefore, it’s best to purchase tickets on the website and then show up at your scheduled time. An added benefit of ordering online is that you can see how crowded each timeslot is.
  • – Take the dress code seriously: As mentioned above, you’ll be wading through water, so make sure that you wear shorts or pants that easily roll up. Ladies should avoid skirts as several of the exhibits have mirrored floors. That being said, if you have trouble with the dress code, you can borrow a pair of shorts at the venue—teamLab truly thought of everything.
  • – Mind your electronics: Despite being in a dark and occasionally wet environment, it can be easy to get careless with phones and cameras. I recommend using wrist straps for your devices to avoid dropping them in water or losing them in the void of the Soft Black Hole. The exhibit runs at capacity, and considering the darkness, it’s highly likely that someone (or something) will bump into you, jarring your grip on your device. As I waded through the Drawing on the Water Surface exhibit, I couldn’t help but wonder how many electronic devices had fallen victim to its Dagobah-esque murky depths.

An artistic feast for the senses

At 3,200 yen for a general admission ticket, teamLab Planets commands a hefty price to what amounts to about a 90-minute experience. Is it worth it? Certainly. Even if you aren’t into abstract art, the sheer creativity that went into this exhibition is unparalleled. The experience stimulates nearly all the senses, and teamLab has created yet another world that begs to be explored.

If you are traveling on a tight schedule, maximize your time in the Toyosu, Tokyo area by checking out teamLab Borderless and the Toyosu Fish Market on the same day as your visit to teamLab Planets.

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Writer / Translator

Originally from Riverside, California, I've been living, working, and writing in Japan since 2009. Japan has become my second home, and I'm especially fond of Shinjuku, Tokyo. That being said, I also love getting out into the countryside and exploring the entire country. Through Tadaima Japan, I hope to share the wonders of Japan with a wider, international audience. Check out my articles if you enjoy exploring on foot, convenient cafes, and affordable dining.


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